Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 28 Oct 1982

Vol. 338 No. 2

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Flour Imports.


asked the Minister for Agriculture whether he is aware of the grave situation in the Irish flour milling industry as exemplified by the recent announcement of Messrs. Ranks Ireland Ltd.; if so, whether he proposes to take any action; and if he will make a statement outlining the Government's plans for the future of this industry and for the safeguarding of the employment it provides.


asked the Minister for Agriculture the action he proposes to take to reduce the volume of imports of flour for bread making, which constitute a grave threat to employment in the flour milling industry and to the livelihoods of Irish wheat growers.


asked the Minister for Agriculture is he is aware that the importation of flour is posing a serious threat to our milling industry; and if in the national interest he will take the necessary action to ensure that this industry will continue to survive.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 16, 17 and 18 together. I am aware of the concern about the increase in imports of flour which are now running at a rate of about 14 per cent of total requirements. While I would like to have all our flour requirements produced here, EEC rules prevent me from imposing a direct restriction on imports from other member states.

I have already discussed the position with representatives of the flour millers, including Ranks, and I will shortly be meeting their representatives again together with representatives of trade unions, bakers and farmers with a view to considering how best the farming, milling and baking industries can meet the competition presented by the imports.

Is the Minister aware that a similar problem arose on two previous occasions and that one of his predecessors, Mr. Mark Clinton, brought the flour milling industry, the bakery industry and retailers together and arrived at an agreement that they would voluntarily not go ahead with imports of flour for a number of strategic reasons, with which the Minister will be familiar. Would the Minister consider taking the same kind of action now?

I have arranged a meeting for Friday week with all the interests concerned and I will be proceeding along the lines suggested by the Deputy. If we can get that kind of voluntary effort, I agree it is the way forward.

If that kind of voluntary effort does not produce a result, is the Minister prepared to consider any other measures that might be taken?

We have to proceed on the basis of voluntary control.

What particular problem did the Minister have in arranging this meeting? In the first six months of this year the level of flour imports was more than double that in the corresponding period last year. It appears that the total imports of flour for bread-making could amount to some 27,000 tons this year. Why has it appeared to be so difficult up to now to arrange the kind of meeting fixed for Friday week?

There are a number of reasons but I do not want to prejudge the outcome of the meeting, which I regard as very important. I would like to leave it at that and see what will happen at the meeting. After the meeting I will be making a statement on what I hope will be a constructive outcome.

Arising from the Minister's reply and from a previous reply I received concerning this problem, he indicated that 500 jobs were lost in the milling industry in the period 1977 to 1981, and that Ranks are now planning to make a further 200 people redundant in Dublin and Limerick. Is the Minister in a position to say if there are any plans afoot to save those 200 jobs?

There are a number of problems in this industry and I would prefer not to go into them in detail pending the discussions to be held Friday week. One of the difficulties is that there are union bakeries, non-union bakeries, varying degrees of efficiency in different flour milling factories and so on. This is a serious matter as far as the wheat sector of the agricultural industry is concerned and it is important that we maintain this industry. There are many factors involved — national and local industrial relations, productivity, union bakeries, non-union bakeries and so on — and this is not an easy problem to solve. I hope Friday week's meeting will act as a clearing-house of ideas and that we will reach some decisions because everybody concerned must be brought together to discuss this matter.

Does the Minister realise that there is very little crossing of national borders in relation to flour in the EEC? He should ensure that the same thing happens here. Is he aware that irrespective of any kind of rationalisation the flour mills undertake here, they will not be able to compete with the British producers who are now supplying the market? Why has the Minister not included the bakery industry?

They were not included in the list he read out.

Perhaps I read them too fast, but I did mention them.

The bakery industry are the most important people here because they decide where the flour is bought. Would the Minister agree that the recent decontrol of bread had any influence on the recent large increase in the purchase of British flour?

The latter point is not important but I am meeting all the representative bodies——

The latter point is the most important because that caused the present situation.

I am meeting everybody concerned — trade unions, bakers, farmers and millers. It is a fact that most EEC member states have their own indigenous flour milling industries. That is an important point we should bear in mind when deciding on the action we may have to take vis-à-vis the Commission and the European Community in this matter.

In view of the fact that the Minister referred to the strategic importance of this industry, can I take it that he would agree with me that under no circumstances could we contemplate leaving this country without adequate flour milling capacity and that it follows from that that there are no rules in the EEC which can operate to prevent us ensuring the survival of an adequate flour milling facility in this country?

I would agree totally with the basic principle adumbrated by the Deputy in this matter. That would be the kernel of our case within the Community in arguing for the retention of the basic industry in this vital strategic area.

And that we would not accept any other argument? There is a strategic national interest involved.

What action does the Minister propose to take to stop the activities of independent Irish agents who go to Britain, buy flour and import it here? What are his short-term plans to preserve the 200 jobs of the workers in Ranks flour mills in Limerick and Dublin and to enable the continuation of the Irish flour industry which is being undermined by the activities of these independent agents?

All these matters will be discussed at the meeting I am having tomorrow week. While I agree fully with Deputy Colley, no Minister or Government should give a blank cheque to inefficiency in the industry. I put that down as a marker. It is one of the concerns I will have in the negotiations.

In the submission made by Ranks to the employees in the Dublin area they indicate that they intend to supplement their business by imports where necessary. Does the Minister intend allowing that to happen? They are talking about doing away with 200 jobs and increasing imports of flour.

That is one of the real problems involved. This company are taking an attitude which is not necessarily being taken by other companies in the industry who are concerned about updating and improving their efficiency and who are in a position to compete. It is not a simple matter.

What has caused the very large increase in imports of flour during the past couple of months? Would the Minister consider that the decontrol of bread prices has any relation to this very large increase?

This has not happened over the past couple of months.

It has been pinpointed over the past couple of months. I assure the Minister that this is a fact.

Figures show that this has been a developing problem. One of the problems has been unionisation in the industry. Possibly we can have a discussion after my meeting next week.