Dáil Éireann - Volume 313 - 03 April, 1979

Private Members' Business. - Boatyard Redundancies: Motion.

Mr. Blaney: On a point of order, may I inquire whether the one motion which [1024] is being taken could not have been taken with the two other motions down, whether it would not have been more sensible to have lumped the three motions together? Unfortunately, I understood that this was the way it might be taken. I was not here today for the Order of Business. I have learned only now that they were not being taken together.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I am afraid there is nothing the present occupant of the Chair can do about that at this stage. There is only the one motion on the Order of Business and one motion agreed this afternoon, which is No. 66 on the Order Paper.

Mr. Blaney: Am I right in saying in respect of the motion being taken on this subject—on which there are two other motions down—that neither of those two other motions may be taken after this evening for a period of six months or something like that?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I think the Deputy would be correct on that. Of course it would be a matter for the Chair to decide whether or not there would be repetition of what is involved in the other motions. It is a matter for decision between the Whips.

Mr. Blaney. That is what surprises me. I believe there should be three motions.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy M.P. Murphy, on a point of order.

Mr. M.P. Murphy: Is it permissible to take the three motions together, as suggested by Deputy Blaney?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: No, there can be one motion only before the House at any particular time. That is in accordance with the rules of the House.

Mr. M.P. Murphy: The three motions are similar.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Yes. I will do my best to involve everybody as far as is possible but, with the time [1025] available, it does not seem to be possible. Deputy Begley to move the motion.

Mr. Begley: I move:

That Dáil Éireann notes with grave concern the announcement by BIM that redundancies are contemplated in Killybegs, Dingle and Baltimore Boatyards; and the proposals to reduce the level of manpower to skeleton staffs in these yards; and calls on the Government to maintain and expand employment in these yards.

I can assure Deputy Murphy that I will not go on for 40 minutes; I will cut my time. I should like to hear everybody speak because it is a very important matter.

I was shocked and dismayed to learn that the Minister and the board had contemplated closing our boatyards. It is particularly sad for men who came from England, from Dublin, indeed from all parts of Ireland to take up jobs in these boatyards, because when they took up those positions they were assured that there would be continuous employment for them. It is especially sad for the apprentices recruited 12 months ago, who in the month of November last were called in and given a £300 golden handshake to quit. It is very disturbing that, as far as the Dingle boatyard is concerned, there are at present two apprentices in AnCO in Tralee undergoing a course in fitting. If this move was contemplated surely these young people—the young people about whom we hear so much talk at present and for whom we are so anxious to get jobs—should not be led up the garden path.

I do not know whether or not the Minister is aware of it, but there is widespread horror at these closures in three counties—Donegal, Kerry and Cork. The people of Donegal gave vent to their feelings at a large meeting held in Killybegs. In Kerry we had a special meeting of the county council and, in Baltimore, County Cork, there was a public meeting held also. From each of those meetings one thing emerged clearly: that everybody was unanimous that it was a disgraceful policy [1026] decision of the Minister for Fisheries to close these boatyards. Let there be no doubt in anybody's mind but that he is responsible for the shambles of the boatyards.

Perhaps I may be permitted to quote a parliamentary question and reply given in this House, reported in the Official Report, Volume 311, No. 8 of 15 February 1979, at columns 1422-23 as follows:

221. Mr. Bruton and Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Fisheries and Forestry, in relation to Bord Iascaigh Mhara and the Inland Fisheries Trust (1) the amount and percentage of its total budget represented by, and conditions regarding expenditure of money received by it from non-Exchequer sources, and (2) the extent to which he is answerable to the Oireachtas for its activities.

Minister for Fisheries and Forestry (Mr. Lenihan): At present (i) about £6 million or approximately 33⅓ per cent of the total budget of An Bord Iascaigh Mhara, and (ii) about £60,000 or approximately 7 per cent of the total budget of the Inland Fisheries Trust are derived from non-Exchequer sources.

The annual report and accounts of An Bord Iascaigh Mhara are laid before each House of the Oireachtas as required by the Sea Fisheries Act, 1952.

While I am under no statutory obligation in the matter I would regard myself an answerable to the Oireachtas for the general policy of both An Bord Iascaigh Mhara and the Inland Fisheries Trust and for ensuring that these bodies are carrying out the functions for which they were set up.

There in black and white the Minister accepts responsibility for rubber-stamping the policy of An Bord Iascaigh Mhara and that he is answerable in this House therefor.

Why has the Minister shown such an appalling lack of interest in all aspects of the fishing industry? It seems to me that all he can do is supply scripts with scurrilous innuendoes to Fianna Fáil councillors. [1027] At a special meeting of Kerry County Council last Monday week one of his councillors said that the boatyards lost £1 million last year. When challenged as to how much Dingle boatyard lost he was unable to give the figure. The very same public representative wanted deliberately to deceive the people in Dingle that the boatyard there was losing thousands of pounds. When I challenged him afterwards as to where he had got that information, he told me it was supplied by the Minister for Fisheries and Forestry. The loss in Dingle is, indeed, very small. Will the Minister tell the House why he has directed that the boatyard should close? Is he satisfied that that is the right decision? On whose recommendation did he adopt this policy decision? Was it that of BIM or the Department of Finance or is there another developer on the scene who has not surfaced yet?

I should like to take the three options and look at them coldly and clinically. The attempt by BIM to put 159 workers on the dole queue seems to be part of a deliberate plan for the final closure or the sale of the three boatyards. The House has a right to question the wisdom of BIM on that decision. The board were well aware for some years that the trend for the purchase of new trawlers was towards steel trawlers and yet they did not make any effort to modernise or invest capital in the boatyards or retain the workers. I am grateful to Deputy Blaney, who pointed out on an Adjournment Debate that the architect, the chief cook and bottlewasher, was not appointed until a couple of months ago even though the vacancy existed for years.

I should like to know if BIM have a comprehensive document in their possession suggesting modernisation? How long have they that document? Can the Minister tell the House why it was not published? Did the Minister meet the unions in 1978 when the unions put forward a scheme? Did the Minister give an undertaking to the unions that there would not be any redundancies? What has gone wrong since? Could the current crisis have a serious significance for [1028] BIM? Is it a winding down of the role of BIM in the fishing industry? I should like to quote from the Official Report of 11 November 1976, when Deputy Gallagher, now the Minister for the Gaeltacht, questioned the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, Deputy M.P. Murphy. Where is Deputy Gallagher tonight? The 50-mile limit has gone but he got the Ministry and that settled that. The quotation from the Official Report is as follows:

Mr. Gallagher asked the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries his projections in relation to (a) boat-building (b) development of harbours and (c) processing for the years 1977, 1978 and 1979; the estimated cost of these projects; and the sum being provided by the Government for this development in 1977.

Mr. M.P. Murphy: Targets have been set which envisage the addition of an average of 76 boats of all sizes to the Irish fishing fleet in each of the years 1977, 1978 and 1979. These targets will be monitored and if necessary up-dated each year.

What has happened since that reply in the course of which we were told that a number of boats were to built each year? How many orders have BIM got for all sizes of boats? Is it true that the board are sitting on those orders waiting for the chop to come on the boatyards?

I am aware that a vague hint was given in the White Paper that there was to be a toning down of BIM but I should like to remind the Minister that BIM are major employers in the underdeveloped coastal regions. The loss of hundreds of jobs will have serious social implications. If the Minister has any backbone he will ensure that there is no sale and that the boatyards will not close or be reduced to operating with a skeleton staff for repairs only.

I should now like to question the Minister about the second part of the triangle, the Department of Finance. Are they putting the boot in in their customary fashion at Estimates time? I am aware that in 1976 there was a loss of more than £100,000, that in 1977 it [1029] was in the region of £500,000 and, if the figure quoted by the Fianna Fáil Deputy at the meeting of Kerry County Council on Monday week is correct, last year it was in the region of £1 million. That loss could have been foreseen because the board did not make any effort to modernise management, streamline output or anything else.

Was the Minister so weak at the Cabinet table that when he presented his Estimate he was chopped and gave in without a fight? Was he sacrificing the boat builders? If he was, we know he had something else in view. He does not mind being unpopular in the short term. He does not mind getting rid of the 50-mile limit because, as we are all mature enough to know, the Minister is angling for bigger things. He does not mind being unpopular at the time of the next election by getting rid of the 50-mile limit, closing our boatyards or doing any other dirty job the Cabinet want him to do, because he is angling for the EEC Commissioner's job in Brussels. He will be happy there away from all the smoke and thunder sitting in his luxurious apartment.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The person who goes to Brussels as EEC Commissioner has nothing to do with the debate.

Mr. Begley: It has. As the late President de Valera said many years ago, “I am looking deep into the Minister's heart”. The Minister has taken the easy way out. This evening I was informed by the General Office that a question I put to the Minister for Finance asking him if the Comptroller and Auditor General was aware that a certain visitor Dingle boatyard had the honour to receive in the recent past was to be referred to the Minister for Fisheries. However, it has nothing to do with him. Has the Minister broken all the rules in the book with BIM in allowing that visit? We must wait until tomorrow to ascertain that information.

I cannot understand why Dingle has to be closed. There are excellent craftsmen there. My information, which [1030] is third hand from the Fianna Fáil Deputy at the recent Kerry County Council meeting, is that there was a small loss in Dingle. I should like the Minister to tell the House why in recent times moulds were made in Dingle but the frames had to be cut and made in England. That only happened in the last few weeks. Can the Minister tell the House why that happened? The Dingle shipwrights manufactured those frames in the past and could do so again. If BIM did not think enough of the Dingle men to ask them to make those frames why did they not ask the Killybegs or Baltimore shipworkers to make them? This was a deliberate, calculated effort to escalate costs and make Irish shipwrights redundant whether in Killybegs, Dingle or Baltimore. Will the Minister tell the House why a certain gentleman visited Dingle boatyard during the boat show? That same gentleman stood outside the gate at 5 p.m. and counted the men coming out of it. The Dingle men got suspicious because that gentleman is an undertaker among other interests.

Mr. Treacy: An industrial scavenger.

Mr. Begley: Last week Deputy Deasy, Deputy White, Deputy O'Keeffe and I met the Workers' Union of Ireland who presented a very comprehensive document to us from which I now give some quotations:

Potential Value of New Vessels 1980-1982.

Note: The value of new vessels to be delivered in 1980 is between £33 million and £36 million. The total value of all applications for new vessels orders is currently £28 million (80 vessels).

Current Situation

Three hulls are under construction in Holland to be fitted out by a private yard. One vessel has commenced in Scotland and the entire vessel is to be built there. Steel hulls have already been fitted out by BIM who were the first to do this.

[1031] Potential Orders

There are five vessels to be completely built abroad at a total cost of £10 million. Four of these are 119 feet and one is 150 feet. These are steel vessels.

BIM figure for conversion for steel is £2 million.

Even though BIM had a report, they never made an effort to modernise the boatyards so that they could manufacture those trawlers.

I am sure that other Deputies will speak about their own areas. As far as Dingle is concerned, the boatyard was the only industry in the town. Its closure will cause severe hardship to the town. Newlyweds will be unable to meet their mortgages. There is nothing left but the emigrant ship. Why did the Minister or BIM not ask Gaeltarra Éireann to come into this matter? Is it not a fact that Gaeltarra Éireann have given the substantial grant of £140,000 to a private boat builder with a guaranteed loan of another £140,000? Why were Gaeltarra Éireann not brought in to rescue the Dingle boatyard? Dingle is in the Gaeltacht and all the workers there are Irish speakers. The Minister washed his hands of this matter.

The Minister has an obligation to make sure those boatyards do not close. I ask him to stand up to the Department of Finance and BIM or else have a sworn inquiry into the management of BIM. The Minister should not accept the statement of BIM. If the Minister lets those boatyards go as he let the 50-mile limit go he will go down in history as the nearest thing to Cromwell this State has produced.

Minister for Fisheries and Forestry (Mr. Lenihan): We should have a senible debate in relation to this matter because we did not have that on the last occasion. It does not help when we do not approach a matter like this in a constructive manner. On the last occasion I stated that the initial discussions were then taking place. They took place on 13 March between the unions, manual and craft, concerned and BIM, and certain [1032] basic facts were pointed out to the men and unions concerned. It was necessary that those facts be spelt out in specific form. There is no point in continuing along a road of codding workers, as was done explicitly over a number of years, in particular in 1973. I have letters and figures here, given by BIM to the then Minister for Finance and the Parliamentary Secretary, Deputy M.P. Murphy, another to the Minister for Finance, Deputy R. Ryan, and also to the Minister for Defence, Deputy Donegan, pointing out that as far as the boatyards were concerned the cutbacks in capital allocations were seriously harmful because they prevented the boatyards from changing their method of production, from timber constructed boats to steel hull boats.

Mr. Harte: Did the Minister know this in September 1973?

Mr. Lenihan: Sufficient capital was not made available to them over a period of years. I am concerned about the present.

Mr. Harte: Was the Minister aware of that when he made his statement in Killybegs in 1977?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: We had not one interruption up to now. Will Deputy Harte cease interrupting?

Mr. Lenihan: At present there is a Minister for Fisheries who will do something about the matter and not sweep it under the carpet. He will not let the boatyards die a lingering death, as has been happening since 1973.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Harte should allow the Minister to speak without interruption.

Mr. Lenihan: What is required is some surgery. With successful surgery we can put the boatyards on a viable basis. I want to nail one particular lie here. Of course, the invention of the big lie was in Nazi Germany by Dr. Goebbels: tell it often enough, tell it loud enough, tell it long enough and the people will believe it. This evening, as on a [1033] previous occasion, Deputy Begley reiterated the lie that the boatyards are closing——

Mr. Begley: Is it in order for the Minister to suggest——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: It is not in order to suggest that any Deputy told a lie.

Mr. Lenihan: He merely reiterated a lie. It was told elsewhere.

Mr. Begley: Is the Minister in order?

Mr. Lenihan: I will withdraw any imputation that Deputy Begley would utter a falsehood.

Mr. Harte: On a point of order, the Minister used the word “lie” and he has not withdrawn it.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I understand that the Minister withdrew the remark. The chair is satisfied that it was withdrawn.

Mr. Harte: He has not withdrawn it.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Harte must allow the debate to go ahead.

Mr. Lenihan: In the reiteration of statements that do not accord with the facts, there is a grave disservice done to everybody concerned, to the workers, the management and the whole future of the boatyards which is of great community interest in Killybegs, Dingle and Baltimore. I want to state categorically that the boatyards are not closing.

Mr. White: No redundancies?

Mr. Lenihan: The boatyards are not closing. If Deputies want it another way, there will be no closure of any of the boatyards.

Mr. Begley: Will there be redundancies?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy should allow the Minister to make his statement.

[1034] Mr. Lenihan: The whole purpose of the meeting, to which I referred, with the craft unions concerned and of the meeting being held tomorrow between the trade union leaders concerned and the chairman of An Bord Iascaigh Mhara is to discuss the fact that there has been over-manning at the boatyards and that they are not at present a viable proposition having regard to the losses incurred in the past two years.

Mr. Harte: Did the Minister not know this in September 1977?

Mr. Lenihan: I was willing to give the boatyards a chance and in September 1977 I meet the trade unions concerned.

Mr. Harte: The Minister pledged that there would not be redundancies.

Mr. Lenihan: As far back as 1977 and during 1978—more than 18 months ago—I gave the boatyards every chance in accordance with the pledge that I gave to trade union representatives. On that occasion, shortly after I inherited the boatyards from the Coalition Government, what I am proposing now should have been done.

Mr. Begley: Did the Minister meet the unions in 1978?

Mr. Lenihan: If I made any mistake it was that I was too fair in this matter and inclined to give every encouragement to the boatyards to pull out of the financial morass into which they had sunk during the last year of Coalition Government.

Mr. Harte: The Minister is blaming the men.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Minister is entitled to be heard in the House the same as anybody else. When Deputy Harte is here he insists that nobody is heard but himself. If he cannot listen he knows what to do.

Mr. Harte: I was sent here——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy was not sent here to interrupt other speakers.

[1035] Mr. Harte: I was sent to fight——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy can do that in an orderly and relevant way.

Mr. Lenihan: In 1977 the loss began to show. There was a loss for the boatyards of £542,568. That figure came to my notice at the meeting in the autumn of 1977. I said that on the basis of one year's figures I would give the operation a chance and I told that to the trade union people and to Mr. Paddy Donegan of the ITGWU who came to see me. I told them that the situation did not look well but that I would give it a chance.

Mr. Harte: The Minister did not make any conditions.

Mr. Lenihan: In 1978 there was a loss of £1 million. That process started in 1977. It is quite clear from correspondence to Deputy M. P. Murphy and Deputy Ryan from An Bord Iascaigh Mhara that from 1973 onwards the loss situation was looming unless BIM got the capital to revamp their yards, to reduce their work force and to switch from timber to steel. That would employ less people but it would make the yards viable. The yards were let die by the Coalition Government.

Mr. Begley: We kept the men at work.

Mr. Lenihan: They were kept working at an outmoded building process, one that meant that timber boats built in the yards were not wanted by Irish fishermen. We have now the situation, as quoted correctly by Deputy Begley, that Irish fishermen are seeking boats from steel yards in Ireland and elsewhere and that the timber-built boats in these three yards are not wanted by Irish fishermen.

Mr. Begley: Is that why the Minister bought the boats abroad?

Mr. Lenihan: That is not my responsibility. It is the responsibility of Irish fishermen to buy boats that can be used for fishing——

Mr. Begley: Encouraged by BIM.

[1036] Mr. Harte: So much for the “Buy Irish” campaign.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputies should listen without interruption.

Mr. Lenihan: The under-capitalised boatyards were allowed to limp along in an archaic boat-building operation into a loss of £547,000 in 1977. I decided to give them a chance for another year and if I plead any guilt it is that I did not do then what is being done now. I decided to keep the workforce and give the yards a chance and we had a loss of £1 million.

Mr. Begley: If the Minister saw that money was being lost why did he not modernise the boatyards?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Begley was not interrupted when he spoke. The Minister has a limited time to reply. If the debate continues with this kind of interruption I will let everybody home early, very early at that. That is not a threat.

Mr. Harte: It sounds like a threat.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: It may sound like one. On your own shoulders be it.

Mr. Lenihan: The boatyards lost more than £500,000 in 1977 and this escalated to £1 million in 1978.

Mr. Harte: The Minister knew that in 1977.

Mr. Lenihan: The loss figure——

Mr. Harte: The Minister promised help without conditions.

Mr. Lenihan: That is why what we are proposing now was not done then. I decided to give the operation a chance. It is quite clear that it is not sustainable on any economic or social grounds.

Mr. Harte: The Minister is blaming the men.

[1037] Mr. Lenihan: I will stand up in any of the three centres and talk to the people concerned. There is no point in having an operation there and employing an over-manned and over-staffed operation to build boats that are not wanted by the Irish fishermen and which are a loss to the taxpayers.

Mr. Begley: What about Dingle? What was the loss there?

Mr. Lenihan: I will give the Deputy the figure in due course.

Mr. Begley: Spell it out.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy had his opportunity to speak.

Mr. Lenihan: I want to be fair to Deputy Begley. Dingle was the least loss-making of the three yards concerned and I will give the precise figures. This is why this matter must be considered separately in the case of each yard. There will be no rush decision in this matter. All we have done so far is to tell the men concerned the plain facts and there is nothing wrong with that.

Mr. Harte: The Minister has run down the yards.

Mr. Lenihan: Deputy Begley asked a rational question and I want to give the figures. The total loss for 1978 was £1,035,000. The itemised figures are: Killybegs £750,000, Baltimore £200,000, Dingle £85,000.

Mr. Begley: How was that £85,000 calculated?

Mr. Lenihan: Built into the total figure are the overheads of staff at headquarters. The major loss in 1978 was in Killybegs, the second biggest loss was in Baltimore and the third in Dingle. To that extent there is some sense in what Deputy Begley said and that will be taken into account when decisions are made. We are far from being in a position to take final decisions in this matter.

Mr. Harte: I am glad the Minister is reacting to pressure.

[1038] Mr. Lenihan: I am not reacting to pressure. I am telling the House the burden of what Bord Iascaigh Mhara had to say to the men and what they will say to trade union leaders at a meeting arranged for tomorrow. They will be told, and trade unions leaders understand this——

Mr. Harte: That is the qualifying word “told”.

Mr. Lenihan: They will be told the facts. I see nothing wrong with the words “tell” or “told”. I am here to tell the Deputies the facts, because I know them. There was a loss of £750,000 in Killybegs last year.

Mr. Harte: It was not the men who lost it.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Harte will have to stop interrupting.

Mr. Lenihan: The problem is this: there is a further loss of £1 million looming up for this year.

Mr. Harte: Where did it go?

Mr. Lenihan: I cannot stand by and allow this loss-making situation to continue year in and year out and I do not propose to allow that to happen.

Mr. Harte: Would the Minister be kind enough to tell us how that £1 million was lost?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Minister without interruption. Deputy Harte will have to stop interrupting.

Mr. Harte: I do not want to interrupt but——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Harte, please. If the Deputy does not stop——

Mr. Begley: What would you do?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Chair has plenty of power. Deputy Begley should not be smart. The Chair had to take steps before. Deputies [1039] should listen to the speaker in a debate. If they do not want to, they can leave the House.

Mr. Harte: I apologise. It is not my intention to interrupt the Chair or to obstruct your ruling, but there are 80 jobs at stake.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Chair understands that but it is disorderly to interrupt speakers. Nobody understands that better than Deputy Harte.

Mr. Harte: You will appreciate our position. We feel very strongly about this.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I accept that, but no matter how strongly a Deputy feels he cannot interrupt another Deputy who has been called to speak.

Mr. Begley: We are getting the best and the worst out of the Minister by our interruptions.

Mr. Lenihan: Thank you, Deputy. Sometimes it is hard to separate the two.

Mr. Harte: Could the Minister give a breakdown of the £1 million?

Mr. Lenihan: I said the total loss was £1 million last year and that the loss in Killybegs was £750,000.

Mr. Harte: Could we have a breakdown of that figure?

Mr. Lenihan: At the present lack of progress in the three boatyards the loss will be over £1 million this year. I am not going to allow that to continue indefinitely. In the Coalition's policy of drift, that was allowed to happen by Deputy Ryan, as Minister for Finance, Deputy Murphy and Deputy Donegan who were in charge of fisheries, between 1972-77. I have a job to do.

Mr. Begley: We kept the men at work.

Mr. Lenihan: There is an over-manning problem here. That is the simple [1040] management assessment of the three boatyards which will be put to the trade unions concerned tomorrow. As an interim measure, certain manning levels will have to be agreed if there is to be any sense in the management and operation of these boatyards.

Mr. Harte: Sack them.

Mr. Lenihan: There is a further realistic problem. There are three vessels under construction in Killybegs, two of them near completion; there are three vessels under construction in Baltimore; one boat is being completed at Dingle and there is a possible order for another boat. That is the factual situation. I cannot force fishermen to buy their boats from these three boatyards.

Mr. Begley: How can fishermen order boats when they think the boatyards are going to be redundant?

Mr. Lenihan: There are no further firm orders for new vessels just now.

Mr. Begley: Will the Minister not cod us? Fishermen will not buy because of the uncertainty hanging over the boatyards.

Mr. Lenihan: There are a number of Irish private yards catering successfully for the market——

Mr. Begley: Now we are hearing it.

Mr. Lenihan: ——giving employment and to whom the fishermen are going——

Mr. Begley: Are they the Minister's friends?

Mr. Lenihan: That is an audacious statement. There is no truth in it, as the Deputy is aware.

Mr. Begley: We will know tomorrow. We are smoking the Minister out gradually.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Would Deputy Begley please stop interrupting?

Mr. Begley: The Leas-Cheann Comhairle is right.

[1041] An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Of course I am, but the Deputy should not say it and not obey it.

Mr. Begley: I feel very strongly about this issue.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I know, but that does not give you any licence to continue interrupting.

Mr. Begley: I want to keep the Minister on an even keel.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Minister without interruption.

Mr. Lenihan: At the moment there are excellent private boat-building operations, grant aided by this State—by Fianna Fáil and Coalition Governments—by the IDA under policy guidelines laid down by both Governments.

Mr. Begley: Of course, and more and more since Fianna Fáil came in.

Mr. Treacy: That is the Minister's excuse for the sell-out.

Mr. Lenihan: We have such boat-building operations in Arklow, where they have been traditionally and which are being expanded substantially. There is a boat-building operation in New Ross which is also being expanded. There is a boat-building operation in Cork, Maritime Limited, which is also being extended and expanded. We have smaller boat-building operations at places like Currahinny in Cork and Malahide in County Dublin——

Mr. Harte: That is a very relevant one.

Mr. Lenihan: ——and Meevagh in County Donegal. These boat-building operations have converted to steel construction and are giving employment, and the fishermen are going voluntarily to them.

Mr. Harte: All these boat-building operations under private enterprise are succeeding but the Minister's boatyards are failing.

[1042] An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: If this does not stop I will adjourn the House. I am not going to listen to any more of this. I have appealed, begged and asked and I am sick of it. If the Deputies do not control themselves there is only one way out as far as I am concerned. The Chair has no option in the matter. The Minister, without interruption.

Mr. Lenihan: I am going to make it quite clear in case there is any misconception. I have no ideological belief one way or the other as long as the operation is kept going and employment is maintained. Whether these yards are owned by Bord Iascaigh Mhara or by a private operator or operated jointly, that option can be considered. There are a number of options that can be considered. My main concern is to provide a viable operation, to get employment levels up and to make sure that the labour force will be engaged in building boats which Irish fishermen want.

I was very glad to hear Deputy Blaney's constructive contribution here some weeks ago during which he did not exclude the option to which I have referred, the type of option that might be considered by the Government in order to get these yards going in a viable way. He constructively threw out the idea that private interests could do a lot better job than the job being done at the moment by a State body, run and managed from Dublin. I agree with that because I do not see any point in managing from Dublin these operations located far away from Dublin. That is being done from Dublin in a quasi-civil servant operation. It would be much more practical to get people working on the ground in order to get the operation going in a proper manner. That is the only hope I see.

That is one of the options I am considering at the moment. We are about to have talks and we do not want these talks to be bedevilled by any political comments here in the House. I want to see constructive talks between the trade unions and BIM, between the trade unions and myself and between myself and BIM, plus any possible private operators who may be interested in leasing [1043] these premises for boat-building purposes, with a clause built in that boat-building operations alone will be allowed in the yards.

I do not see anything wrong in that. I am determined there will not be a closure, and if these yards cannot be managed efficiently in an operation directed from Dublin, I will see that they will be managed efficiently by somebody. The surest way to lead to closure of these yards is to continue a situation to the end of this year when there will be another loss of £1 million. No Minister for Fisheries in his senses could stand over a situation where these three yards are building boats which are not wanted by Irish fishermen, and not alone that but building them at a loss of £1 million a year. That situation cannot be sustained and I will not stand over it. The option which will be adopted will be designed to avoid closure of these yards, indeed to provide for expanding employment in these yards.

Mr. Begley: Will the Minister answer my question? Will there be redundancies after 31 May?

Mr. Harte: It was the Minister who lost the £1 million, not the men working there.

Mr. M. P. Murphy: No section of the community were so gulled by Fianna Fáil in the 1977 election campaign than the fishermen. I do not want to go over old ground about the 50-mile limit. Deputies Gallagher, Haughey, Molloy and O'Kennedy took good care once the election was over to put Deputy Lenihan in charge of Fisheries, and of course he could not be blamed for what had happened in the 1973-1977 period because he was resting at that time.

Hopes were held out to our fishermen that modern boats would be built for them and that employment would be created in the BIM boatyards in the building of these boats at Killybegs, Baltimore and Dingle. I do not agree with a lot of what Deputy Begley said tonight. Indeed I disagree entirely with him because he seemed to be indicting [1044] BIM. They are not at fault. They are being made a scapegoat by the Minister. It is the Minister and the Department who are at fault for the downgrading of these three yards.

Mr. White: The Minister called it a quasi-civil service operation.

Mr. M. P. Murphy: It is ministerial policy that is to be blamed. It is quite evident from the Minister's statement that pressure from private interests has brought this position about. I had a good deal of pressure from such interests during my period in office. We are dealing with the public sector. During my period in the House, going back to 1951, I have always found BIM helpful and cooperative. They were always anxious to expand and to readapt, to meet modern requirements, to steel-hulled boats. More important, the workers in the BIM yards at Baltimore, Killybegs and Dingle were quite satisfied with BIM as employers. I can speak particularly for Baltimore. Relations were quite good and excellent work was being done.

Can the Minister appreciate the position of these workers today? He said we were codding the workers and the unions. Who is codding them? When we were in office not only did we maintain the workforce but we increased it in a three-year period. During three of our four years BIM had a profit in these yards—I refer to the detailed memorandum prepared by the Workers' Union of Ireland. Now we are being told the yards must be closed down. I understand the proposal is to reduce the workforce so that by 1980 the numbers employed will be 24 at Killybegs, ten at Baltimore and six in Dingle. I want to make a special plea to the Minister to reconsider his attitude. I am quite sure the Minister is under great pressure from private boatyard owners who, I am quite sure, helped Fianna Fáil financially in the 1977 election campaign.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: That sort of charge may not be made. It is an allegation.

Mr. M. P. Murphy: It is a statement of fact.

[1045] An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The allegation that the Minister or anyone else was bought should not be made.

Mr. M. P. Murphy: Is there a more appropriate term?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I am asking Deputy Murphy not to make that type of allegation.

Mr. Lenihan: It is very hurtful.

Mr. M. P. Murphy: If there is I should like the Chair to tell me. The position is that you are selling out now—I hope you do not take offence at that.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Through the Chair, Deputy, please.

Mr. M. P. Murphy: The Minister is selling out to the private boatyards. As I represent Baltimore I know what the effect of the redundancies that are to take place there will mean. At present there is a workforce of 67 people, and that is a big number considering the overall population of the district. It is proposed within the next 15 months to scatter at least 57 of the 67 people to the winds. There are skilled operatives working in the three yards but if we implement the measures the Minister has in mind they will be scattered. How can we gather them together again?

The Minister said the yards were not modern. What prevented the Minister from modernising them since he took office in 1977? At that time we were about to provide a transverse slip for the Baltimore yard which would have helped to modernise it. The cost of the slip would have been in the region of £300,000. All these proposals were before the Department. At the time the Coalition left office they had in mind getting BIM to modernise the yard——

Mr. Lenihan: That is a nice way to make decisions, having it in mind.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Murphy without interruption.

Mr. M. P. Murphy: That was the [1046] position. There was no talk in Baltimore, Killybegs or Dingle during the election campaign of redundancies in the yards. It was stated that there would be expansions in the fishing industry and consequently expansion in the workforce in the BIM yards. The Minister should rethink this position. Can the Minister visualise the problems confronting the workers who are facing redundancy who have a craft which in some cases took years to acquire? They are now to be thrown on employment exchanges. It is completely out of place in 1979 that such a situation should occur. On behalf of the workers I should like to make a special plea to the Minister to rethink the position. It is not so long ago since I made a special plea to the Minister for Finance and to the Minister for Economic Planning and Development to rethink the farmer's levy and the advisability of continuing it. It was accepted even though it was in two doses.

Mr. White: Another sell-out.

Mr. M. P. Murphy: The purpose of the motion we are discussing is to try to get a change of mind on the part of the Department. The Government are blaming BIM for what is happening. If we were in office there would be no question of blaming the BIM or indicting in the rather unfair—that is a mild term—way in which the Minister did this evening the personnel and executives of BIM for not modernising the yard and not being able to cope with private industry. Seemingly, overnight it is completely out of place to have a group with headquarters in Dublin administering yards around the coasts. That is a new concept and one that we never heard before.

Mr. Begley: We will have a passport office in every town from now on.

Mr. M. P. Murphy: We are making a strong plea to the Minister and to the Government to change their policy in relation to the yards. I am satisfied from my intimate knowledge of the Department and the working of BIM that they are not responsible for the present position. Government policy is responsible.

[1047] Mr. Harte: The Minister is responsible.

Mr. M. P. Murphy: Early in 1977 there was a suggestion that the workforce in the yards should be reduced. I said it would not be reduced and it was not.

Deputies: Hear, hear.

Mr. M. P. Murphy: If the Coalition were still in office it would not be reduced. What would be happening is that we would be modernising the yards. We had a programme for the expansion of the fishing industry. The gimmickry about nobody being allowed inside of 50 miles, which we heard so often in debates on the fishing industry, has been forgotten. Our programme for the expansion of the fishing industry set out in detail the number of additional boats required. I should like to know from the Minister what brought about the change in departmental policy regarding seeking orders from abroad? Before we left office we had discussions with the senior officers in the Department with a view to expanding the yards by getting custom from outside the country. We felt it was possible to do so. We were making inquiries with a view to getting additional custom for the yards and boat-building activities. I have no doubt that had we remained in office the position would be much different from what it is.

Mr. White: We were starting to build.

Mr. M.P. Murphy: The Minister has been telling us about all the jobs they were to create. I do not see any extra jobs in south-west Cork.

Mr. Harte: They are more interested in jogging.

Mr. M. P. Murphy: There will be a loss of some 50 jobs. This is a very big problem. It is all right for the Minister because he is cushioned away in Dublin and has little or no recourse to fishermen. What Deputy Begley said may also be correct, that he may not be with us at all when it comes to the hustings the next time.

[1048] Mr. Begley: Let us hope he will be with us in this world anyway.

Mr. M. P. Murphy: I am satisfied that the policy of doing away with employment in remote parts of the country along with the southern and western seaboards is a step in the wrong direction. As Deputy Begley mentioned, the workforce in the three yards have come together and asked their unions and public representatives of all creeds to try to bring pressure to bear on the Minister with a view to getting him to change his decision. As far as the workers are concerned, there is no politics in this. Their bread and butter is in it.

It is peculiar to note, reading through the memorandum from the Workers' Union of Ireland, that the union responsible for workers in the yard were not notified of this change until last month. Why were they not told months ago? Why were they not brought in as representatives of the workers and why was the situation not discussed with them? Why not discuss the position with them? I wonder if the Minister was anxious that there should be a loss. At least, it gives him the opportunity of coming here and saying that it would be too much to expect the taxpayers to foot the bill to the extent of £1 million in order to subsidise the three boatyards. I do not know how much it costs the taxpayer to subsidise the workers in other industries.

Mr. Harte: For example, CIE.

Mr. M. P. Murphy: I expect that it is costing much more than £1 million to subsidise other workers.

Mr. Begley: Not to mention the Department of Posts and Telegraphs.

Mr. M. P. Murphy: The figures show that in the boatyards concerned there was a loss in 1971, a gain in each of the years 1972 to 1975, a relatively small loss in 1976 and that after the Minister assumed office the level of the loss increased so that, according to him, the loss for last year will exceed the seven figure mark. Taking the seventies, the boatyards showed an overall gain in the five years since 1971, but as soon as [1049] there is a loss the Minister adopts a pessimistic attitude and says that we must rationalise, that we must close down the boatyards because we must not ask the taxpayers to subsidise them.

Mr. Harte: It is a sell-out.

Mr. M. P. Murphy: Since the Minister took office we have not heard any complaint from him regarding overmanning at the yards and from the information at my disposal which, in regard to Baltimore is first hand, there is no indication of overmanning. Therefore, instead of bringing in this kind of measure the Minister would be better employed in the drawing up of plans to modernise the yards. Obviously, capital is needed in order to enable them to compete with private yards or with yards in any part of the world. If this were done we would be able not only to maintain our workforce but to increase and expand it. I do not consider it necessary for me to take up any more time on this matter. There are several Deputies from the three constituencies concerned waiting to make their contributions to this motion. In essence the message is to keep the yards open and to expand them.

Mr. Blaney: I have been listening with great interest to the debate so far. In particular I listened to the Minister in the hope that he would reiterate the promise made on his behalf by Senator McGowan that there would be an inquiry into the entire workings of the yards.

Mr. White: The Senator said there will not be redundancies.

Mr. Blaney: Can the Minister confirm that an inquiry has been promised as announced by Senator McGowan a week ago at the protest meeting in Killybegs? Are we to take it that there was no such promise so far as the Minister was concerned?

Mr. Begley: This is the first the Minister has heard of it.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I am sure Deputy Blaney does not need any help.

[1050] Mr. Blaney: No, but I need some information. The Minister had begun his speech just before I came in so I am wondering whether I missed a reiteration from him of the promise to which I have referred.

Mr. Lenihan: I do not have a report of the meeting at Killybegs.

Mr. White: Has the Senator not spoken with the Minister?

Mr. Blaney: Before I continue I should like to know whether the Minister undertook to have an inquiry into the workings of the yards.

Mr. Lenihan: The Minister always inquiries into the affairs of his Department.

Mr. Blaney: I do not mind what form the inquiry takes so long as it is thorough, but are we to take it that there has not been a promise of an inquiry?

Mr. Lenihan: There is a continuing state of inquiry in regard to all the operations of the Department.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Blaney is in possession.

Mr. Blaney: Obviously, it is a waste of time pursuing this matter. We may take it that the Minister did not promise an inquiry despite what was said by Senator McGowan at that meeting. The reason for my being anxious that an inquiry be held is that the issue before us is totally confused. There is a ludicrous situation of a board for the promotion of fishing, BIM, who have gradually participated in the enlargement of this industry to a point that would have frightened them a few years ago when I was accusing them of lacking in imagination and of setting targets that were too low. To my mind their targets are still too low, but what is ludicrous about the situation is that BIM have been attempting to run two shows simultaneously. It is not good business practice that the board charged with the promotion of the fishing industry and the related onshore ancillary services should be charged also with the provision [1051] of money by way of loans and grants for the purchasers of boats and should tell prospective boat buyers that the boats are being sold from the BIM yards. This has been to the disadvantage of fishermen, who could have bought their boats at the private yards the Minister has lauded so much. But there was pressure brought to bear on them to buy at BIM yards when it suited the board to build more boats. Why has the squeeze situation been in operation so much in recent times? Why has there not been in the past two or three years any seeking of new orders? On the north-west coast I am aware of eight prospective customers who are known to everybody in that part of the country but not one of whom has been approached on behalf of BIM to have a boat built at the board's yard. One of the eight has approached the yard asking that the people there, that is at Killybegs, should be allowed build the boat for him. This is the situation despite all the inefficiency that has resulted from the lack of management, not only in terms of the long distance from Dublin but by the decimation of the staff at Killybegs. I cannot speak with the same knowledge of Baltimore or Dingle but I expect that the pattern in those yards is similar to that at Killybegs.

Up to three years ago the boatyards were showing a profit. We have known for some time that steel was the component of the future so far as boats are concerned, though some fishermen still prefer wooden boats. On the other hand, fishermen are awaiting the launching of wooden boats which they were pushed into buying by BIM. At the same time they were quoted for steel hulls, the construction of which we had no knowledge or experience. Those steel hulls were imported from Holland at a time when similar hulls could be bought in England for less money. The board were aware of this fact as were the fishermen who were awaiting the boats but they could not do anything about the matter at the time.

Is the Minister aware that three years ago, as a result of the knowledge that steel would become important to our growing fleet, a reputable English steel [1052] construction firm made a specific proposition to import from England unfinished steel hulls and to establish the expertise to construct steel hulls here for BIM or any other yard? Why were they ignored? Why were we prepared to pay so much more money to Holland for similar hulls? In 1977 the Minister, who was wise then but whose wisdom has since diminished, promised at the launching by BIM in Killybegs of two fully fitted steel hulls that we would expand into steel. What has happened since? The Minister may try to explain by quoting a loss of £500,000 in 1977, £1 million in 1978 and an expected loss this year of £1 million.

In 1976 the naval architect was given different duties in BIM. Up to September 1978 his services had not been replaced. The design draughtsman died and was not replaced until last September. The assistant engineer left in mid-1977 and he has not yet been replaced. The yard engineer in Killybegs left in mid-June 1977 and he has not been replaced. The apprentice training officer left two years ago and he has not been replaced. At that time it had obviously been determined that there was to be an end to the yards. I disagree with the Minister when he says that the yards are not closing. They may not physically close but surely the Minister will not try to convince anybody that the six workers remaining in Dingle will be effective; that ten workers out of 67 in Baltimore can do anything but caretake in the hope that the yard will be revived; that 34 out of 114 workers in Killybegs will be capable of building boats or overhauling them. Let us face the fact that the yards are being closed. Let us not fool ourselves that in these days of modern methods such a small number of workers in yards on our west coast can do anything else but pass the time and fritter away some more money.

This sad situation began in 1976. During the time the losses were accumulating we commenced building the largest wooden craft ever built in this country. Our present situation is the result of the omissions I have mentioned plus many more which I shall not mention tonight. What were the Minister and [1053] his Department doing at that time? What were the Department and the board doing at that time in relation to the private yards? Not so long ago I asked the Minister if it had come to his notice that private yards who were endeavouring to expand to meet the new needs of today were being brushed off by the IDA, not because the IDA considered their projects worthless but because the finger had been put on them by BIM or by the Department. The Minister replied that he was not aware of the matter. Today the Minister tells us how good these yards are and how they are thriving. One small yard in my constituency proves that there is something wrong with the management structure. It was owned by BIM and they closed it down. Subsequently, a private firm took it over and worked it successfully. Today we have no assurance that private enterprise will take over these other yards. I want the Minister to investigate this sorry affair and to consider the incompatibility of BIM's two jobs—the running of the yards and funding. This is something we want in a hurry. Let this be done by a private individual on his own or in conjunction with the State. We still need timber boats and in some cases the fishermen still want them.

Debate adjourned.