With the permission of the House, I would like to share my time with Deputy Paul Bradford.
Adjournment Debate. - Verolme (Cork) Dockyard.
Is that satisfactory?Agreed.
The saga of Verolme Dockyard has been going on since it went into liquidation in 1984. Numerous attempts have been made by the liquidator to dispose of the assets and hopefully have the yard reopened. In the last three years there have been rumours that the yard was reopening, including talk that an American company were going to build an oil rig there which would be towed to the Mediterranean and used for drilling oil off the Malta coast. This was to be commissioned by the American Government.Our Government were also in conference with the Government of the Soviet Union early last year when there was talk that a deal would be done with the dockyard for the repair of Russian fishing ships and the Irish Government were to give the Russian Government something, which was unnamed, in return.
About this time last year I said that neither of these options should be entertained by the Government because they were not in the interests of the workers in Verolme Dockyard. The American deal would have been a temporary arrangement because once the rig was built it would be towed away and the yard would be shut again. As regards the Russian deal, there were too many question marks over thequid pro quo and it was not clear whether a quota of Irish fish would be part of the deal. At that stage I said I was in favour of a Norwegian company which were negotiating with the receiver for the purchase of the yard. The company concerned had a lot of experience in ship repairing and ship-building and I felt they would perform extremely well and give continued employment over a good number of years. By way of Dáil questions, on a number of occasions since, I have tried to get information on precisely what was happening, but without much success.
Last Friday in Cork the Minister for Industry and Commerce, Deputy O'Malley, said the dockyard would reopen within a year, that the Government had instructed the receiver to negotiate a contract with a European ship-building firm, that the deal would be clinched within a fortnight and the yard would reopen for ship repairing with initial employment of 80 to 100 people and, depending on the orders, increasing to 300 in three or four years time. The Minister declined to say who the company concerned were except that they were from a European Community country. On the same day the Minister for Energy, Deputy Molloy, said the company concerned were Dutch-based. The following day, the Minister for Finance, who is here to reply to this debate, acknowledged that there had been a drive in the last seven or eight years to reopen the yard and said there would be an announcement in the next few weeks. He said a company who have links with a Belgian company just beat a Dublin-based company in a £2 million deal to reopen the dockyard.
There are three Government Ministers involved here. The Minister for Industry and Commerce said, without naming them, the company concerned are an EC company; the Minister for Energy said they are a Dutch based concern; and the Minister for Finance, on Friday or Saturday last, said they are a Belgian company.
Who said they are a Belgian company?
The Minister is quoted as saying that in theCork Examiner of Friday or Saturday last.
I did not speak to that paper at all.
I was going to say the Ministers know what is going on but obviously the two Ministers from the Progressive Democrats do not. About a month earlier they allowed a Broadcasting Bill through which contained matters that they subsequently had to twist the arm of the Government to change. I wish they would show the same enthusiasm in getting the Government to change their minds about matters such as divorce and extradition. They do not seem to have any muscle when it comes to important issues like saving lives, but they have plenty of muscle when it comes to getting publicity in regard to RTE.
On 6 June the Minister for Finance said during Question Time, at column 1339, volume 399, of the Official Report:
Every effort is being made by the receiver of Verolme Cork Dockyard (VCD) to have the yard reopened... My Department along with other Departments and State agencies are actively involved in this process. Several Norwegian companies have shown interest in the yard, including one company which has come forward very recently. My Department along with the other Departments/agencies involved have had direct contact with the various interested parties, including the Norwegian companies.
There are three Ministers and four countries involved. I would like to find out precisely what is happening. There has been enough talk about the Verolme Dockyard and I want the Minister to say tonight whether Deputy O'Malley, Minister for Industry and Commerce, Deputy Molloy, Minister for Energy or the Minister for Finance, is correct.
The Minister is shooting them down again. Tough luck, Pearse, you are out again.
We know what is going on.
Obviously you do not know what is going on because the two Progressive Democrat Ministers gave two different versions of the story last weekend.I just want to know what is being done to create jobs in the ship-building yard in Cork.
The case presented by Deputy Barry here tonight clearly outlines the confusion which exists in relation to the plans for the dockyard. I hope the Minister will give clarification as to the plans. Without a doubt, in the past number of weeks there has been a great deal of speculation in the area that good news was to be announced, but so many people have been announcing the news, and so many different types of news have been announced, that people are concerned that their optimism is not well founded. I hope the Minister will clarify the issue tonight.
I do not have to go into the issue in detail. Obviously all Members here tonight are fully aware of the situation that has existed since the closure of the yard. It is worth while saying that most of the people who lost their jobs when the yard closed have not only failed to find employment since then but in many cases have had no option but to emigrate. It is absolutely essential that the Government ensure that a deal is put together that the ship-building industry will operate again in Cobh and that the people there, and indeed the people of Cork, will be given some hope and that they will be rid of the despair that has existed in the area for far too long.
I wish to share a minute of my time with Deputy Ahern.
I would like to thank the Minister for giving me a minute to speak on this very important subject which is close to my heart, and to my home. I am aware that over the past number of years the Minister and his officials have been making serious efforts to attract a company to the dockyard to make it a viable proposition. The attack that has been made this evening, particularly by Deputy Barry, is completely unwarranted. I must put on record that in 1984 the then senior Minister in Cork would not meet the trade union members or the workers in Verolme Cork Dockyard.
That is not true.
He insulted the workers when he said that Cork is only a second city——
I did meet them. The Deputy should withdraw that remark.
Please, let us hear the Deputy without interruption.
He attempted to downgrade the people of Cork. I am aware that the Minister is trying extremely hard——
The Deputy should tell the truth.
If, as the Deputy says, the allegation is untrue, it should be withdrawn.
I am aware the Minister is trying extremely hard to ensure that in the next couple of months there will be a viable business in the dockyard and that it will be for the good of Cobh, Passage and the north side. With those few words I would like to thank the Minister for allowing me some time.
The Deputy should have withdrawn that remark.
I have looked at the two extracts from the newspapers to which Deputy Barry referred: one is by the Minister for Industry and Commerce and the other by Deputy Molloy. I do not see that I am quoted in any of the Cork papers. If anyone can assist me on that I would be only too happy to answer that. A European shipyard company is interested in Verolme Cork dockyard. No deal has been signed. The deal is well advanced and we are hopeful that it will be finalised. As soon as it is finalised and is confirmed on both sides I will be only too happy to announce it to the people of Cork, to the House and to everybody else. Until that happens I am not making any announcement and I am not making any further comment other than what I am saying here tonight. That is the exact position. The previous deal with the Norwegians, which Deputy Barry queried went to, one could say 11 to 4 on. The reason we talked about the Norwegians in the reply on 6 June was that the question put down asked specifically if a Norwegian company was still interested. At that time two Norwegian companies were interested, one partly interested in association with a Norwegian company. At the last moment some German shipyard intervened and offered a subsidy. Of course, the major problem about trying to sell shipyards is that every company interested wants both subsidies and soft loans because that is the general practice around the world. We have tried to avoid that from the very start.
That is the basis on which the present agreement is being drawn up: no subsidies, no soft loans but a straight purchase price based on a business plan that will show a build-up from ship repairs into ship building over a period of years and with "no assets stripping" clause involved. The deal is still not signed, still not finalised. I would hope to finalise it as soon as possible. It is a European firm so I do not see any conflict between what any of us are saying in relation to it. I am sure I reflect the views of everybody when I say: "get the yard open as soon as possible". We have made many efforts in the past to sell it but they have fallen through at the last moment. I hope this will succeed. It is there since 1984. It is in the interests of the workers of Cork and the future of Cork. It is heavy engineering and it is a fine yard. I constantly resisted, both in my role as Minister for Industry and Commerce and as Minister for Finance, having the yard split up. It could have been disposed of on many occasions it it has been broken up but I did not allow that because ship repairing or ship building would never have the facility to take off again. I will be making the announcement if and when we finalise the deal. I am hopeful that we can finalise it but then one is never sure until the ink is dry.
May I ask one short question?
It has to be a very brief question. It must be understood that the Minister's reply concluded the debate.
Is the Norwegian deal off?
So it is a European country.
If Deputy Barry says that he did not refuse to meet them, then I accept his word.