asked the Minister for Communications if, in view of the deep anxiety of the employees of Irish Shipping Limited about their future, he will take immediate action to protect the crews of Irish Shipping vessels and their families now on the high seas or stranded in foreign ports and to ensure their welfare and speedy return to Ireland.
Private Notice Question. - Crews of Irish Shipping Vessels.
The liquidator has confirmed to me that he will repatriate the Irish crews of Irish Shipping's vessels and he has the necessary power to do so.
Let me point out that I asked this question particularly in relation to three ships, the Irish Spruce, Irish Cedar and Irish Rowan, that 110 workers are involved in this, and at this stage, certainly in the case of the Irish Cedar which is under way to port in Mombasa, the workers do not know exactly what is going to happen, if they will be arrested or if the ship will be confiscated. Can the Minister outline exactly what the position is? Their families who are concerned about their destiny and who have asked the Irish authorities for information about what will happen to them still do not know.
These matters are provided for by well-known principles of maritime law. This is principally a matter for the liquidator and I am assured that the liquidator will repatriate all Irish crews, that he has the necessary to do so——
Has he the funds?
——and that there is no problem.
I tell the Minister that the workers cannot be so assured. There are well known rules in maritime law one of which is that while they are away on the high seas their families are entitled to allotments from their salaries. When their wives and families turned up last Friday for their allotments they were told that there was no money and it was not known when there would be money. Therefore, the families cannot feel as confident as the Minister does about certain procedures that are normally covered by liquidations under maritime law.
That is another question.
Will the Minister give us any reason why these ships should not return home at this stage? Obviously if they are to be confiscated they will arrive at the various ports within the next two weeks. The captains and chief engineers of these ships have made it quite clear that they do not know what will happen particularly in the case of the Irish Rowan which is to go to Taiwan shortly. The Chinese people who are behind some of the deals that collapsed are not likely to take too kindly to what has happened. I am sure that the liquidator, the Department and the Minister cannot give any assurances that these people are safe.
Deputy Ahern has made a number of points which are really separate questions and I do not propose to deal with them. It is important that it is understood that there is no danger whatsoever to the crews involved and that they will be repatriated with all due speed. There is absolutely no difficulty and in the interest of the crews and their families that should be quite clear.
Can the Minister make any comment on the fact that the families' allotment money, as it is called, was refused last Friday——
That is a separate question.
If they are out on the high seas could I be allowed to ask a question?
I allowed Deputy Ahern to ask a question which I thought was in order and I ask him to confine himself to that.
Could the Minister give some consolation to the 101 staff of Irish Shipping, 49 of whom are now redundant, the remainder whose redundancy expires over different dates——
Deputy Ahern, if you proceed as you are going you will put the Chair in an impossible position. I allowed your question because it was in order. I ruled out other questions because they were not in order. You are now getting into the realm of questions which I ruled out of order, and I ask you please to co-operate with the Chair.
I will. I tried to be very careful to make sure that the questions I put down were a matter of urgency. If the employees——
They were ruled out of order. I will deal with this in a general way when I finish this. I ask the Deputy to confine himself to the part of his question which I allowed.
Would the Minister give any indication as to when a statement will be made regarding the 101 staff, who have been told that they will be let go between now and Christmas, and the remaining staff of 100? What is the position?
This is most unfair, to put it at its lowest.
Let me say that it is only a few minutes ago that I was told that all of my question was ruled out of order, after I had gone to a great deal of trouble to ensure that it was drafted in a way that led to urgency. What can be more urgent than people——
I am not going into the reasons for ruling out questions. They were ruled out for different reasons, some on urgency and some for other reasons. I ask Deputies please to listen to me and understand me. I ruled on a number of questions today which were submitted to me on Private Notice Questions. I gave them the most careful consideration. I approached them with a perfectly open mind. I got such advice as I asked for and I ruled on the questions in all good faith. I would ask the Deputies to accept that ruling. I say, and not in a jocose manner, that if any Deputies are not satisfied with my ruling it would not be orderly to have a barney or a wrangle or a hassle about it here. Any Deputy is welcome to come to my office and discuss it with me and I assure him that I have neither a cross dog nor a cross woman there.
I will attempt to repeat my question within the ruling that you make. Part of that ruling was that the Minister will ensure that the welfare of the staff and their families will be looked after. I should like to ask the Minister, in relation to allotment money that is normally paid to the wives of crew members of Irish ships, and has been paid since 1941, what the position is now of the wives and families of the crew members who are likely to be stuck on the high seas or in ports thousands of miles from Ireland between now and Christmas.
It would be helpful if many of the questions that the Deputy has asked — it is understandable why they were ruled out of order — could be put to me afterwards. If the Deputy wishes to discuss the matter with me, I would be prepared to discuss it with him.
This is some form of democracy.
In order to be helpful I would be prepared to discuss as far as possible the problems that arise in so far as they remain within my competence. As the Deputy is aware, there is a liquidator in place who has responsibility now for all the affairs of Irish Shipping Limited. It is outside my responsibility and it would be very improper for me to intervene. Naturally, we are very concerned and, as I have told the Deputy and the House, in relation to Irish crews abroad there is no cause for concern whatever.
Arising from the Minister's reply and from the genuine concern by him for the employees of Irish Shipping Limited, I should be obliged if he will state what the position is of employees of Irish Shipping who have contributed to pensions for 39 years and are one year short of a pension entitlement and of those who are in their 40th year? Is the Minister giving an assurance to the House that those people will get their pensions?
I must rule that out of order. It is a detailed question which could quite easily be put down on notice when it would then be considered. I am not saying it would be in order but it could be considered. It is not in order to raise the matter now.
The Minister has expressed publicly here his concern for the employees and my question is totally relevant to that.
It is not.
I should like to ask the Minister about the exact position of responsibility in this matter. Is it the position that the fate and circumstances of these employees and their families is to be left entirely to the liquidator or is the Minister, as the Minister answerable to the House for the affairs of Irish Shipping, taking a responsibility for and an interest in their conditions?
The Deputy will be aware that liquidation law is very precise and responsibility in a liquidation lies with the liquidator. However, I, as Minister for Communications, have general responsibility under the Merchant Shipping Act, 1906, in relation to the repatriation of crews. I am assured that the liquidator has this well in hand. Of course, I have an interest in it and I will continue to have an interest in it to ensure the safety and safe return of Irish crews as and when it becomes necessary to do so.
What about the pensions?
If anybody can make head or tail of that answer by the Minister they are cleverer than I am. The liquidator has no interest in this but a commercial one. He is bound by law to pursue certain commercial interests, considerations and nothing else. Over and above that, does the Minister not recognise that there is a humanitarian aspect of this whole matter, of families being stranded, Irish citizens being left stranded abroad thousands of miles from home? Is the Minister, the person responsible for liquidating this company and bringing about this situation, in a position to assure the House that he will look after these people and see to it that they are properly catered for?
It is rather a pity that the Leader of the Opposition should enter into such hyperbole to add to the distress of the families concerned. I must repeat that the interest of the crews will be looked after——
——and they will not be left stranded. There is no question whatever about that.
The Minister is saying that there is no money in the kitty?
Is the Minister aware that an experienced trade unionist, after his meeting with the Minister, said he had never in his entire trade union career come across a more callous, casual and off-handed approach by any Minister towards a group of employees?
It is only fair that I should report that the minutes of the meeting in question are available and Deputy Haughey, who was not known to be fair in these circumstances, should judge for himself the attitude of the Minister.
I know the Minister's reputation.
I tabled a Private Notice Question on the matter of Irish Shipping asking for the location of the ships, the fully-owned ships and the chartered vessels. Is it the contention of the Chair that that is not of interest to the House and to the taxpayer?
The writ is already in Mombasa.
I ruled under Standing Orders. I specifically allowed part (c) of the question tabled by Deputy Bertie Ahern and rejected all the others on various grounds which I will explain to Members if they come to my office. I allowed that part of the question by Deputy Ahern to the Minister for the very reason which has come out today, that he has a statutory obligation, duty or responsibility for repatriating seamen. Therefore, over and above the duty of the liquidator, the Minister has that duty. I regret to tell Deputy Wilson that I am not going to enter into an argument or discussion about this matter.
I am not going to argue with the Chair at all. I put down a very carefully worded question with the idea in the back of my mind that if it touched on the liquidator it would be refused. I deliberately, in wording my question, avoided any mention of the liquidator and concentrated the question on the area of ministerial responsibility, and yet it was turned down. I cannot understand why that was done. I wanted the record of the locations of the ships and status of the ships, as Irish ships, affected. A ship has now been arrested in Savannah, Georgia.
If the Deputy comes to my office I will discuss the matter with him.
The Chair has the interest of the country at heart just as much as any Minister, Member of the House or myself. I ask the Minister to tell his colleague to appeal to the IDA to come home out of the US and stop the hypocrisy, if that is all the respect they have for the status of the Irish flag.
I am moving on to the Order of Business.
I am at a loss to know why the Chair ruled out of order my Private Notice Question——
My secretary told the Deputy. I have moved on to the Order of Business.
My question was very important because it concerned the appointment of a non-recommended person to the Army. That represents political interference with the Army.
My private secretary informed Deputy Noel Treacy of the reasons why he could not raise it. I am calling on the Taoiseach to announce the Order of Business.