We need to be cautious in our comments because the situation is still far from over and we must try to present a positive message. In his initial reply, the Minister of State outlined five or six commitments which had been entered into by the ISPAT company when pur chasing the facility from the State in 1996. Does he consider that those commitments have been fulfilled to the level which they should be? Hopefully, his answer is ‘Yes' and, if so, does he believe that the company has a commitment to the region, or at least did have such a commitment in 1996-97?
In advance of the Tánaiste's meeting with the company in the next few days, has the Minister of State a full assessment from ISPAT on what are the actual problems? Will the Tánaiste be in a position to respond to a series of queries and concerns from the company? Is the picture fully available to the Department at this stage? While I am glad that a meeting is to take place with the company, I hope it will not be simply a discussion and that, in advance of the meeting, the Tánaiste will be fully appraised of the situation and the list of problems which the company is facing, so that she may be able to discuss possible solutions.
With regard to the proposed task force, even if ISPAT is enabled to continue in operation, the task force should look at the harbour region. The closure of ISPAT would be the thin end of the wedge. The present heavy industry is of a very old traditional type. The task force should be geared towards looking at new technology and new industry for this area. An area like Cobh and Cork Harbour cannot be expected to live on one traditional industry alone. The task force is essential in any event and hopefully the Tánaiste will be in a position to make progress when she meets the company.
I would like to hear the Minister of State's assessment of the company's commitment to the region. This has been the subject of some debate but, from my own involvement in discussions in 1996, I feel there was a genuine commitment by the company to make a success of the former Irish Steel. It is unlikely that any company would invest in a facility simply in order to close it down five or six years later. Is there now a full picture of what has gone wrong and will the Tánaiste be in a position to discuss a solution, notwithstanding the fact that there is a difficulty with regard to EU prohibition on grant aid. We should look at all possible ways of assisting this company to remain in operation.