Dáil Éireann - Volume 335 - 02 June, 1982
British and Irish Steam Packet Company Limited (Acquisition) (Amendment) Bill, 1982: Second and Subsequent Stages.
Minister for Transport (Mr. Wilson) John P. Wilson
Minister for Transport (Mr. Wilson): Tairgim:
“Go léifear an Bille an Dara hUair.”
The present authorised share capital of the B & I Company is £35 million, which is held in its entirety by the Minister for Finance. The main purpose of the Bill is to increase the company's authorised share capital by £25 million and to enable the Minister for Finance to take up this amount in additional shares in the company. The Bill also provides for an increase of £25 million in the maximum amount of the company's borrowings which can be guaranteed by the Minister for Finance.
As Deputies will no doubt be aware, the B & I Company are at present encountering severe financial difficulties. The company recorded losses of £1.1 million in 1979 and £2.8 million in 1980 and, notwithstanding an increase in turnover from £66 million in 1980 to £73 million in 1981, the loss in 1981 jumped to £7.54 million.
The trading conditions in which the B & I have had to operate in recent years have been very difficult, given the depressed environment for tourism, the general economic recession and serious cost inflation. The B & I's difficulties have been aggravated by a significant increase in borrowings and lease obligations resulting from an expansion of capacity from 1978 onwards. Severe competition on the Irish Sea, which has forced the B & I to hold down fares, has also seriously undermined the company's financial position. Industrial disputes both here and in the UK have cost the  company a total of £5.9 million in the years 1979 to 1981 inclusive. In 1981 alone disruption of one kind or another, many of which disruptions were completely outside the company's control, cost the B & I in terms of net loss £2.6 million.
The Government's reason for purchasing the B & I from private UK interests in 1965 was basically the strategic one of having an Irish presence on the Irish Sea which would at the same time operate on a strictly commercial basis. Following the take-over the company began an investment programme to replace old ships, to introduce multi-purpose car ferries and to mechanise cargo handling facilities and since then the B & I have made a major contribution to the development of modern and efficient transport services between this country and the UK.
In 1977, the B & I decided on a large-scale investment programme. This programme was designed to meet the requirements of the company in the light of technological changes and expected growth in trade and tourism. The total cost to the company of the investment programme, which has since been completed, was approximately £72 million. The main investments were: the replacement of two older car ferries; the introduction of the Jetfoil on the Liverpool route; the termination of the Dublin-Liverpool Lo-Lo service, which was being scaled down since 1975, and the introduction of a Ro-Ro service to Fleetwood; the introduction of a new short-sea service on the Rosslare-Pembroke route.
The new car ferries, m.v. Connacht and m.v. Leinster were built in Verolme Cork Dockyard at a cost of IR£40 million. The orders for these vessels enabled employment to be maintained at Verolme during a period of very severe world-wide difficulties in the shipbuilding industry from 1977 to 1981, and brought the volume of business given by the B & I to Verolme since 1967 to almost IR£60 million. It was recognised at the time that, because of subsidies and incentives available to other shipyards, these ships could have been built abroad at significantly  lower cost. The Government, therefore, provided additional share capital to the company, £20 million in all, to partially finance the construction cost of the ships involved.
A further part of the B & I investment programme was concerned with the development of a short-sea route strategy. This had been a long-standing ambition of the company because of the inherent advantages associated with more intensive asset utilisation and lower unit costs — a factor which had become even more important with the increase in oil prices in the seventies.
The introduction in 1980 of the company's short-sea route, Rosslare-Pembroke, involved the B & I in capital development commitments for the construction of a ferry terminal at Pembroke in South Wales. The introduction of its other short-sea route, Dublin-Holyhead, earlier this year did not involve additional capital expenditure due to a change in Sealink policy regarding the use of its port facilities at Holyhead by other operators.
The current problems of the B & I are due in large measure to the fact that the increased traffic and revenue budgeted for under the 1977 plan failed to materialise. In this situation the servicing of new debt has become a burden beyond the company's capacity to carry unaided. The company's financial charges have increased from £2.6 million in 1979 to £7.6 million in 1981. At the end of 1981, the company had term loans of the order of £27 million as well as obligations relating to leased assets. The share capital of £35 million has been eroded by accumulated losses of over £12 million. Furthermore, the company's cash flow position has deteriorated to the extent that an injection of equity working capital is now urgently required.
The B & I have been pursuing a policy of retrenchment in an effort to reduce costs and improve their trading position. The company's strategy for 1982 is based, inter alia, on a rationalisation of services including the introduction of the Dublin-Holyhead service and a corresponding reduction in frequency on the Dublin-Liverpool route. The company  have also terminated the jetfoil service and are investigating the possibility of a sale or long-term charter.
The jetfoil operation was conceived as a fast and comfortable passenger operation, linking as it did two major conurbations, Dublin and Liverpool. It was unfortunate that the introduction of the service coincided with a contraction in passenger demand on the Irish Sea and that the viability of the service could not have been tested in more favourable circumstances.
Another aspect of the company's rationalisation measures has been the reorganisation of services on the southern corridor, including the servicing of the Cork-Pembroke and the Rosslare-Pembroke routes with one instead of two vessels. This move will help the company's finances to the extent that the surplus vessel is available for disposal and that there will be greater utilisation of the vessel on the combined route. I am very concerned about the deterioration in the B & I's financial performance and I am glad to note, therefore, the steps which the company are taking to rationalise their operations with a view to achieving economies and improving productivity. I am in full agreement with the B & I Board on the need for these economy measures, which should help to improve the B & I's trading results and create a more stable employment environment for the company's employees.
I should mention that a detailed examination of the affairs of the B & I is being carried out under the aegis of my Department. The examination has revealed that the company cannot continue to operate without immediate assistance from the Exchequer. In the circumstances, the Government have agreed that the Minister for Finance should take up additional equity in the B & I, not exceeding £8.7 million, during 1982. This should help to relieve somewhat the heavy burden of financial charges which represent a substantial proportion of the company's overall loss.
While it will be necessary to disburse a portion of these funds as soon as the legislation has been passed to enable the company to meet their immediate obligations  arising from the seasonal down-turn in their cash flow, I will be expecting the company to demonstrate to me that satisfactory progress has been made in the rationalisation of their operations before I shall agree to recommend any further disbursements from the Exchequer.
In recommending this Bill to the House, I am conscious of the representations made both to myself and my predecessor by representatives of B & I workers setting out the company's record of good industrial relations and highlighting their participation in the affairs of the company over the years. I feel sure that the general body of workers in the B & I are as committed as the board of the B & I to restoring the company to profitability as soon as possible. I expect the company to make substantial strides towards this end in the current year.
I have recently discussed with the chairman of the B & I the progress which has been made to date towards the implementation of the company's cost reduction measures and the need for further measures. He has advised me that while there has been broad acceptance among employees of the action which is being taken there are still some difficulties to be overcome. It is essential that these difficulties be overcome quickly in the longer-term interests of job security.
I do not propose to comment on the present unofficial dispute which has led to the suspension of all B & I services, beyond saying that industrial disputes of any kind are not in the long-term interests of either the B & I or their workers. I should like to express my regrets, however, to the travelling public who, as the holiday weekend approaches, are seriously inconvenienced by the effects of the dispute.
Because of the Government's general concern about the deterioration in the B & I's position, I have arranged that the company's performance will be continuously monitored by my Department during the remainder of 1982 so as to ensure that the Government will be kept fully informed of the progress of the company towards the elimination of losses  and a return to profitability.
Tá géar-ghá ag Comhlacht B & I le hairgead breise gan mhoill, agus is dá dheasca sin, agus chun foirithint ar an gcomhlacht in am an ghátair, atá an Bille seo á chur os comhair na Dála agam. Ar ndóigh, tá fhios ag gach éinne nach raibh neart ag an gcomhlacht ar a lán de na droch-thorthaí, cuirim i gcás an titim siar i líon na gcuairteóiri, go háirithe ón mBreatain, an culú ginearálta eacnamaíochta ar fud an domhain, an boilsciú airgid, an méadú uafásach atá tagtha ar chostas ola, gan trácht ar stailceanna. Mar sin féin, ó thárla go bhfuil airgead ag eirí nios gainne in aghaidh an lae, ni mór don chomhlacht, idir bhainisteoireacht agus fostaithe, tréan-iarracht a choinneáil ar siúl chun costais a laghdú agus teacht isteach a mhéadú, ionas le cúnamh Dé go mbeidh an tionscnamh ar bhonn slán athuair gan aon ro-mhoill.
Chomh fada is a bhaineann lion féin, leis an Aire Airgeadais agus an Rialtas, beimíd ag coinneáil súil ghéar ar imeachtaí an chomhlachta agus ag iarraidh cabhrú leo i ngach aon tslí.
Mr. Cooney Mr. Cooney
Mr. Cooney: One gets the message from the Minister that the position in the B & I is serious and to some extent one must try to read between the lines to assess exactly how serious. Certainly one cannot read between the lines details of what precisely is being done by the company to tackle their difficulties and restore some measure of commercial viability to their operations.
I concede that the company was originally purchased by the State in the mid-sixties primarily for strategic reasons. The Minister's predecessor, the late Erskine Childers, told the Dáil in March 1965 that the company was being purchased to achieve a greater measure of Irish participation and control over cross-Channel transport, to ensure that the development of these services would be in line with Irish interests and that the B & I services would not be allowed to run down or disappear in a situation of declining profitability. Undoubtedly the objective of achieving a greater measure of Irish participation and control over  cross-Channel transport has been gained. It is true to say that the development of these services by the B & I has been in line with Irish interests.
The third objective, to ensure that the services will not be allowed to be run down or disappear in a situation of declining profitability, has been maintained but, on the situation as hinted at by the Minister, something drastic will be required if the services are not to disappear in a situation of declining profitability. The loss for 1981 at £7.54 million is very substantial but the Minister has been very short on information to the House as to the precise make-up of that loss. He did not say how much of it is due to the unfortunate capital position of the company and how much is due to operating losses in the various sectors of the company. We would have to know that information. We would also have to be given some information as to how the company's capital structure will be geared following the changes that will be a consequence of this Bill. I do not think we will get that information.
There is the statement that the Government propose to put up immediately £8.7 million but we do not know how that will be paid over to the company, in what stages and in what sums. If part of the company's difficulty is a wrongly structured balance sheet, a crazy gearing to provide the extra equity in dribs and drabs, as the Minister has implied, will not rectify that basic defect in the company's structure. It is unfair to the company in the sense that they will never get out of the financial mine they are in unless capital is put on a proper footing. It is also less than a vote of confidence in the board of management of the company.
One has to read between the lines but it would appear that rationalisation measures are in train. This House is being asked to vote an extra £35 million by way of capital for this company and also to provide for increases in the borrowing levels and it should be told in broad detail, subject to any constraints of commercial confidentiality, the rationalisation measures being proposed. We  should know what progress has been made towards achieving them, what difficulties are being encountered in achieving them totally, whether there is an end date for their final implementation and, above all, we should know what difference the rationalisation measures will make to this year's and the following years bottom line. None of that information is in the Minister's speech.
We are being asked to increase substantially the equity of the company making provision for further substantial borrowing, although what advantage that will be to a company already seriously over-borrowed I do not know. We are being asked to do all these things without any information about the future of the company. Will they be able to achieve the objectives set down by the late Erskine Childers in 1965, to ensure that B & I would not be allowed to be run down or the services disappear in a situation of declining profitability? We seem to be getting perilously close to that situation, only being saved from it by this injection of further equity. It is proposed to give the equity in dribs and drabs. We have no figures from the Minister to show us what effect this will have on the balance sheet or on the rationalisation measures being proposed. Neither have we been told if the company have any surplus assets they can dispose of other than one vessel. There is no indication of what the vessel is likely to realise, whether there are any surplus shore-based assets that could be disposed of and what they are likely to fetch. There is much information that we need.
Having said all that, I think we are stuck with the strategic necessity to maintain this line. It is particularly clear this weekend that the other carrier on the Irish Sea does not, as of now, have the capacity to take all the traffic that is available at a peak time. It is very unfortunate that there should be an unofficial dispute taking place in this company at the moment because the one bright spot in the operations of the company over the years has been the loyalty and co-operation of the staff in pulling their weight. The staff have willingly co-operated in new work practices, they have postponed  wage increases and they have contributed towards the cost of buying new vessels. Generally the level of co-operation and participation by staff in the affairs of the company has been one of the most heartening features in the whole industrial relations scene. It is a pity that this good record is now being spoiled by an unofficial strike at this critical weekend.
Notwithstanding the parlous state of the company, I would be so bold as to suggest that unofficial strikers cannot be conceded to. I think we have to realise that the rule of law must apply in industrial relations as well as anywhere else. Otherwise chaos results. I presume there is a rule of law in a set of procedures for solving disputes. Perhaps they do not solve them as quickly and as satisfactorily as the people concerned would like, but they have to put up with that in order to ensure that the rule of law is maintained and that chaos is avoided. The solution of this dispute cannot take place outside normal negotiating procedures.
I suppose the particular timing for this weekend was deliberately chosen. It is an unfortunate aspect that very often unofficial disputes are timed to cause the maximum public inconvenience to the innocent travellers in the hope that their protest will exert some sort of blackmail on the Government or the employers to concede the claim. It is reprehensible that a good record is being so seriously damaged this weekend. I hope that on reflection the people concerned, who I am quite sure are as loyal to their company as any other section of employees, will see the damage they are doing to the company.
I suppose, because it is a semi-State company and the Exchequer is available and there is this strategic consideration of maintaining an Irish presence on the Irish Sea, that there is probably an underlying belief at all levels in this company that they will be bailed out irrespective of everything. I suppose that belief is well-founded. I do not wish to imply that the company have been careless or negligent in running their affairs. Whether they have always had the wisdom that hindsight would give us must be questionable. The venture into the jetfoil was  particularly unfortunate.
They have been unlucky too in so far as there have been two critical factors for a number of years which have been adversely affecting their trading position. The first was the fare war that was operating on the Irish Sea. That depressed income very severely. The consumer benefited. But in so far as the consumer is an Irish taxpayer he is paying one way or the other in the long run. I would be glad to hear from the Minister when he is replying if that difficulty which the company has experienced over the last few years has been eased or is disappearing and a more rational approach to fare structures by all the carriers on the Irish Sea is now being adopted. I presume that it would have to be so as a consequence of the admission of B & I to Holyhead. It would be crazy beyond words if two companies serving essentially the same route were to be engaged in a fare war with each other. I presume that commonsense has now prevailed in that regard. Again we would like to know what effect that is going to have on the overall position of the company.
The other area in which the company has suffered has been the drop in tourist traffic from Great Britain to this country. There will always be a certain amount of passenger traffic coming from Great Britain consisting of people of Irish birth or Irish descent coming back here for social or business reasons. That amount of traffic is guaranteed. But that amount of traffic by itself is not sufficient to generate the type of revenue that is needed to make this a profitable enterprise. B & I, as much as Sealink, also need the pure tourist traffic and unfortunately that type of traffic has been scare in the last number of years. I am seriously apprehensive that this year it will be virtually nil due entirely to the recent outbursts of Anglophobia that have been manifested here, I regret to say, by the Government institutionally in their approach to the Falklands dispute and the position in the EEC and specifically by the quite horrifying demonstration of that by the Minister for Defence. That Anglophobia is a real disease here at the moment. It is a great pity  that we cannot grow up and rid ourselves of it. There have been various manifestations of it that I might advert to. One of these is in the news broadcasts in Radio Éireann. In the English bulletins the islands in the South Atlantic are referred to as the Falkland Islands. In the Irish bulletins they are referred to as the Malvinas: perhaps Malvinas is the Gaelic for Falklands. But it is a symptom. Likewise over the last two days we heard repeated bulletins that the Argentines claim that a British carrier has been sunk. One gets the impression that this is being repeated with a certain amount of satisfaction and the very categoric denials of the British Ministry of Defence were not given the same prominence at all. We are in the grip of a dangerous bout of Anglophobia and that is having severe commercial repercussions on the whole economy and specifically on the fortunes of B & I and will have very severe repercussions for B & I in this year. So in regard to the two main factors that contribute to the difficulties, the crazy price structure and the downturn in traffic, we will be glad to hear from the Minister his views as to what B & I think their position is going to be this year. Have they rationalised the fare structure with Sealink? How do they see the tourist traffic, as opposed to the Irish people coming back on their holidays or on business?
In conclusion, on this side of the House we see the need for this Bill. We see the need for increased share capital of B & I. But we are disappointed that the Minister has not given us more specific figures in relation to how the B & I capital structure is composed, how the equity ratio will be after this injection of capital, how it is at the moment, what proportion of revenue has now to go on interest payments. We are disappointed that he has not given us projections for the next few years. In particular I find it puzzling that, in regard to a company that appears to be in a seriously imbalanced capital position and is having to meet huge debt repayments, the Minister proposes to take up the additional equity on the basis of not more than £8.7 million in 1982, and there is the implication that it will only be disbursed in dribs and drabs.
 The Minister says that he will be expecting the company to demonstrate that satisfactory progress has been made in the rationalisation of its operations before he agrees to recommend any further disbursements from the equity. There is a certain logic about that, but he should know in advance if the gearing of the company is such that it is a contributing factor to its present difficulties and decide to put that right and have confidence in the board of management of the company to implement the rationalisation measures proposed. We do not know what they are, but I am afraid this Bill is a vote of no confidence by the Minister in the B & I company. I do not think that the company deserves that vote of no confidence. There were possibly management decisions that one would criticise with hindsight, principally the jetfoil decision. Clearly that was a dubious decision from day one. But many of the management decisions which were made and which resulted in a large amount of capital spending over the last number of years were made on certain assumptions which I think were reasonable assumptions, and all management decisions have to be made on assumptions. As it turned out they were unlucky in that the upturn in passenger traffic did not occur and once that did not occur there was a fatal loss of revenue and, because of the improper gearing of the balance sheet, all that compounded into ever-growing losses with the result that this year we have a loss of £7.54 million.
I would ask the Minister to give us an indication of the board's prognostications for 1982, 1983, 1984 and so on, and a full financial statement of the position of this company. I suppose it is illogical to say that we agree to this measure without having that information. But I will be illogical and say that we do agree to it because, for strategic reasons, we have to have an Irish presence on the Irish Sea. What we all want to achieve is that that presence will be operated in the most efficient manner possible and achieve, as near as possible, a commercial result. We cannot assess that from the Minister's speech so to some extent we are giving  assent to a pig in a poke.
Mr. Deasy Mr. Deasy
Mr. Deasy: The Bill before us is really an indication of the sad state of affairs regarding trade on the Irish Sea, be it freight or tourism. This is affecting us right across the board. It makes pathetic reading. It indicates our madness, if I may use such a strong word, with regard to our relations with Britain. As a nation we seem to be hell bent on self-destruction, and I am afraid the B & I's troubles are just the tip of the iceberg.
In today's national newspapers — The Irish Times in particular — we see evidence of that economic madness, never mind the injustices and the vindictiveness of our policies in recent times or the rights and wrongs which should be paramount. This Bill involves money and commerce. We are adopting a most stupid short-sighted policy and we are paying for it dearly and in years to come we will pay much more dearly.
We all know that the decline in the B & I's fortunes stemmed largely from the decline in the British tourist trade through the seventies. If that state of affairs continues in the eighties, I can see a significant decline in the volume of trade between the two countries. The front pages of today's Irish Times and Irish Independent illustrates the difficulties people in industry are experiencing at present and which they fear they will experience to a greater degree in the years ahead. If our commerce is affected to such an extent, the fortunes of B & I can only continue to worsen.
Last Monday I made a statement which, it could be said, had a bearing on today's Bill. Part of it was picked up by the Cork Examiner and Bord Fáilte, but they misinterpreted what I had to say maybe because I did not express myself too clearly. I endeavoured to say that the British tourist trade has virtually disappeared, only a small trickle remains, that it will probably decrease even further and that we confuse the different types of tourist. I was trying to distinguish between the Irish emigrant and his family who return home on annual holidays — that trade will continue — and the British tourist who has no ethnic connection with  Ireland. In my view the latter trade is infinitesimal. To get a true reading of the situation we should distinguish between these two groups. It is a sad state of affairs, but it is a fact that that trade is getting smaller. That is having a major effect on our economy and on our tourist trade and we must try to rectify the position.
As Deputy Cooney said, our stand on the Falkland Islands has not done anything to help; it has worsened the position. In answer to a parliamentary question tabled yesterday I was told the latest figures available show there are 955,000 people in Britain who were born in Ireland and over two million people who have one or both Irish parents. That indicates a vast potential for our tourist trade and at present constitutes the bulk of those coming here on holidays from Britain. Of that I am convinced. As I said, it would be most interesting to get a true picture of the number of tourists coming here who have no ethnic connection, but I am afraid the number is getting smaller every day. This is contributing to the present financial difficulties being experienced by B & I. I do not see how B & I can get out of the wood.
This is essentially a Bill to prop up that company and we will have to continue to prop them up as time goes on. We will have to spend enormous sums helping them because they cannot be viable in the present political and economic climate that exists between the two countries. The Minister spoke about the depressed environment for tourism and the general economic recession, and I would add the poor relations that exist between the two countries as a source of further decline in the tourist trade.
I asked the Government to get sense, to wake up to reality and to do something to stop this madness which is alienating us from the British public and which is costing us dearly. We cannot afford this type of financial loss. I am asking for fair play. Surely that is not too much to ask. At the risk of being classified as pro-British, I say it is time to call a halt to our stupid policies. We seem to be vindictive,  hateful, bloodthirsty and wishing evil on the British race.
The first specific instance visible to this House are the losses being incurred by B & I and the need for vast sums of money to keep this company in operation. We are entitled to be independent, we are a sovereign State. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that we are dependent on our neighbours and must co-exist in a convivial atmosphere if this country is to prosper. That is not now the case. It is imperative that we get it across to every sector of the British public that we do not wish them evil, that they are our friends and that we want to see them coming back to this country in large numbers, as was the case in the fifties and particularly in the sixties, the boom years in tourism. The type of action which we have taken lately has alienated those friends. I think I have made my point.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle Jim Tunney
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy will appreciate that the Minister for Transport is not responsible for the actions, alleged or otherwise.
Mr. Deasy Mr. Deasy
Mr. Deasy: I appreciate that and by the form of the Chair's interjection I know that he understands what I am speaking about and agrees with it — perhaps not. I will leave it at that.
Let sanity come back to this island and particularly into the political scene. Let us stop this madness. I am not sure what Deputy Cooney means by anglophobia, but suspect that I know. I think it is the alienation of which I have spoken. This is something we can do without.
Mr. Cluskey Mr. Cluskey
Mr. Cluskey: Firstly, I apologise to the Minister for not being present for his opening speech and also to Deputy Cooney. This was due to a misunderstanding on my part and no discourtesy was intended. I will be very brief.
I welcome the injection of new capital into the B & I. We could have anticipated the difficulties which that company have been experiencing over a period of time, taking into account what has been happening in this island in the last 12 years and the obvious effect which that would have upon our tourist trade. That trade  has been affected in differing degrees, depending on the violence to which the people of this Island have been subjected, particularly from the Provisional IRA. That, combined with our inflation rate and some of the less desirable features of our tourist industry which were referred to last week by the Minister for Health, undoubtedly would affect a company such as the B & I and make it necessary and desirable to have this type of capital injection.
We very often hear of State and semi-State bodies here, a number of which have been the subject of very severe criticism. We very seldom hear of the number of State and semi-State bodies which have made a very considerable contribution to our economy and to job creation. The difficulties being experienced by B & I and other companies because of a combination of factors, some of which I have outlined, will no doubt be used as another vehicle by those who are against expansion of the State sector, to wit the State sector. A great, co-ordinated attempt at attacking State enterprise is being made by people with vested interests. Every time a difficulty arises in that sector it is pounced upon to try to spread the smear over the whole sector. They deliberately lose sight of the fact that there are very many successful State enterprises and semi-State enterprises here. These have contributed to our economy and, in particular, have provided employment, which the private sector over the decades have failed to provide.
Unlike those who attack the State and semi-State sectors, I am not attacking the private sector for their failure. In fairness to them, it is not their business — and they have stated so publicly — to provide employment. They have stated publicly that their business is to provide profits. They did that in 1977 when the former Deputy Jack Lynch as Taoiseach introduced a very substantial packet of incentives for the private sector, stating that he then expected them to go ahead and provide a number of jobs. Almost simultaneously with putting the packet of incentives into their back pockets, they  stated publicly that they were not going to be saddled with job creation, that that was not their function. They said that was the function of the State and the Government, that their function was to make profits. We have no comeback on the private sector. They quite clearly stated their position. If that is their attitude, however, as they publicly stated, who will provide employment, except the public sector? What has been the response of this Government to the public sector and job creation? To abolish the National Development Corporation which to me was the only real vehicle for job creation, not solely in the public sector but also in co-operation, where feasible and desirable, with the public and private sectors together.
I will not delay the Minister, but another aspect has been raised in this debate, particularly by Deputy Deasy. It is the effect of the Government's stand on the situation in the South Atlantic and the question of sanctions imposed against Argentina by the EEC. Deputy Deasy and other prominent Members of his party have criticised the Government for their position; I do not. I support the Government in that decision. I criticise them for the way they handled the situation in the initial stages. It was disgraceful. I am convinced the decision was made in the Taoiseach's office and that the Department of Foreign Affairs were not alerted to it and could not take the necessary steps to put across our point of view in the various embassies around the world. We gave the British a major opportunity to bash the Irish on that decision. That decision was the correct decision for a neutral country to take. What motivated the Taoiseach in taking that decision is a separate question.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle Jim Tunney
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Cluskey is an experienced Member of this House. I know he will accept from me that we cannot hold the Minister for Transport responsible for the Taoiseach's motivation. I understand that reference has been made to this aspect. The Chair will be tolerant of superficial references to it but I hope we will not delve too deeply into the Falklands situation.
Mr. Cluskey Mr. Cluskey
 Mr. Cluskey: I accept that fully, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I will try to relate my remarks directly to the B & I Company and its effects on travel by B & I, by other steamship companies or by air, from Great Britain to this country. Inflation and criticisms about accommodation, restaurants and other aspects of the tourist trade have had their effect. The way the British press have played up our assertion of our independence and neutrality has had a direct bearing on the difficulties facing B & I.
The speeches being made by members of the Fine Gael Party who have been most vocal on this matter are not in the best interests of this country, while they may score great party political points. They are giving credibility to the most scurrilous statements in the British press about our being anti-British and about our motivations for what we are doing. It is suggested that our sole motivation is to get the boot in to the British. The speeches emanating from the Fine Gael Party are giving credibility to that. They are doing us no service and they are doing no service to our neutrality.
About 18 months ago in this House I spoke about neutrality. At that time my fear was that Irish neutrality was being bartered by the then Fianna Fáil Government in exchange for some commitment on Northern Ireland. Whatever motivated him, now that the Taoiseach has come out and made it clear before the world that not only are we neutral but we will assert that neutrality, he is entitled to support. It is in the best interests of this country that we should support him. Of course, in the situation existing in the South Atlantic and with Britain's involvement there, we will have to pay some price for our neutrality. It is worth paying that price. If the type of speeches we have been hearing against it and against the decision on the sanctions are to continue, the price will be higher for the Irish people.
I welcome the injection of capital into the B & I Company. I do not want to go in any detail into the other problem because I do not know what is happening to try to solve it. As we all know, there  are no B & I sailings at the moment because of the strike. The Minister and his colleagues in Government should make every effort to have sailings resumed as soon as possible in the interests of the tourist trade and of trade in general between this country and the UK.
Minister for Transport (Mr. Wilson) John P. Wilson
Minister for Transport (Mr. Wilson): I want to thank Deputies who contributed to the debate for their various suggestions. Apropos the word “rationalisation” used in my speech, Deputy Cooney asked what steps towards rationalisation were being taken. I can reply briefly by referring to the statement made by the Chairman of B & I at the annual general meeting. The commencement of a daily short sea service between Dublin and Holyhead in conjunction with a Dublin-Liverpool service. That is a change, cutting down the service to Liverpool by half and introducing the new short distance service between Dublin and Holyhead. The operation of a fork service from Pembroke servicing Cork and Rosslare with one ship; groupage services in Cork were stopped and whatever assets are there are to be sold; the suspension of the jetfoil service which, as the House knows, has already taken place. I regret very much that had to happen because I used that service and I found it very comfortable, fast and convenient. I am very sorry, indeed, that it was not successful. Deputy Cooney cast doubts on the wisdom of it from the beginning but, if the three factors mentioned, namely, the decline in the number of tourists, the general recession and the steep increase in the price of fuel, had not combined against it at the wrong time, the original decision would be seen in a different light.
Another part of the rationalisation is the sale of one car ferry released by the operation of the fork service in the Cork, Rosslare, Pembroke context. There is an overall reduction of B & I personnel by about 200. Unfortunately this is also part of the rationalisation programme. A pay pause was negotiated and about 90 per cent of the staff accepted it. I should like  to say how much in agreement I am with all those people who have praised the staff of B & I over the years for their involvement in the company's affairs and for their total commitment to the success of the B & I Company.
They are among the most important elements in the rationalisation programme about which Deputy Cooney inquired. Paying tribute to the staff also calls for a mention of the unofficial strike which is unfortunate and which I hope will end quickly and will not unduly damage the trade in a very sensitive period of the year. Deputy Cluskey when speaking also referred to this. The analysis of the drop in the tourist business which affects the activities of B & I given both by Deputy Cooney and Deputy Cluskey were a little too simplistic in my opinion. The House must realise that there is an international depression, that trade, which is also involved in B & I activities, and tourism in general are in decline, and that there is a general international depression both of which facts impact upon the earnings of the B & I company. I reject very strongly any implication that there is anglophobia either in the Government or outside it. In my own constituency and area over many years a very important section of our tourist industry comes for coarse fishing and they are coming again this year on bookings they made last year and they came last year on bookings which they made in the year before. I hope to see that continue. They do not all read the cheaper propagandistic journals that try to persuade them not to come here or that they are not welcome here. In the strongest words I can command I reject any implication of anglophobia either in Government policy or in the country generally.
The Bill before the House, far from being a vote of no confidence in the B & I company is a vote of confidence in it, in its chairman, its board and its staff. The House will agree as will those who spoke in the debate that the company has an excellent record. In part at least this has been admitted and praise has been duly given by Deputy Cooney and other speakers. The idea that there should be an Irish presence in the Irish Sea was  emphasised by Deputy Cooney. In consultation with B & I we have brought this Bill before the House in aid of B & I because operating their rationalised programme and with the aid they are now getting, the prognostications called for are reasonably optimistic. To use the word with which Deputy Cooney finished, it is the objective that it should be a commercial proposition. The chairman, the chief executive and members of the board would agree to that wholeheartedly. In no way would they want to be in a position of an ailing company looking for annual subventions from the State.
Deputy Cooney asked me for the debt-equity ratio which I give as 1:2.68. If the corrective measure had not been taken the board would have substantial losses throughout 1983 and 1984. If we get full implementation of the corrective measures, and provided there are no unforeseen circumstances — we all know these can arise — the company should steadily improve its position. We are hopeful that it will be in a profitmaking situation by 1985.
Deputy Deasy practically chose the one theme of our relations with the UK. I have dealt with that briefly. He was much more gloomy and pessimistic than any other speaker and spoke of the B & I troubles being only the tip of the iceberg. I do not think I can accept that. I am not so naive as to believe that we will not continue to have troubles in trade and tourism but I do not think they will be any greater than in any other country in similar circumstances. Neither do I believe that there is any significant impact being made on them by the policy being pursued by the Government in the South Atlantic. With the passage of time both the British Government and the British people will see that the Irish Government in the stance it had taken in support of the United Nations resolution was helpful towards Great Britain and had no other intention.
I know the importance of any ethnic trade for the operation of companies such as B & I. From talking to the chairman and chief executive of the company I know that they are determined that they should pay their way. If there is one thing  at the core of their philosophy it is that. This is very heartening. They are first to admit that the international recession in both trade and tourism — I emphasise trade as much as tourism although it was not mentioned at all — will cause trouble. Deputy Deasy said he feared he might be dubbed a West Briton for the attítude he was taking or the words he was saying; I do not think anybody would place him as a Briton either east or west. I am sure that as he examines events as they unfold he will come to a more balanced opinion about Government policy and its effect on tourism and the activities of the B & I.
Deputy Cluskey welcomed the new capital injection and went on to extol the role of the State sector in our economy. I find myself in total agreement with him. I think the people who examine the activities of various State or semi-State companies in the Joint Oireachtas Committee would be in general agreement with the philosophy that Deputy Cluskey outlined. Only a couple of days ago I had the privilege of addressing the 21st anniversary meeting of Bord Bainne, a very successful State company which has a serious role to play in my own constituency and area. I mentioned that to indicate that I am in agreement with the Deputy when he says that there is no reason to attack the State sector or for any concerted philosophical attack on the State sector. That is not to say that there is not a role for the Government in keeping under very close surveillance the activities of the semi-State bodies in the interests of the country and the taxpayer. He went on to deal with deficiencies in private industry and what semi-State and private bodies got by way of incentives. Both have their contribution to make and I do not think that all private industrialists would subscribe to the belief that they had no other role in society than that of making profit.
I am pleased that Deputy Cluskey is of the opinion that the Government, in support of Resolution 502 of the United Nations, were following the right line. I agree with him that the effect on tourism and business for our companies will not  be what some people say it will. I appeal to everyone in public life to refrain from bringing about the result which has been forecast in speeches. There are some balanced newspapers in the UK who would not dream of trying to dissuade people from using the B & I, or from buying the best agricultural produce available to them in their market but there are others which will do so. We have had experience of that in the past. It is as well if this House assures visitors who will use the B & I that they are very welcome. I have met some of them in my own constituency and they know they are very welcome. It is our business to see that however they travel and wherever they stay, they will get value second to none. I thank the House for the contribution to the debate on Second Stage. I want to say to Deputy Cluskey that we shall make every effort to see that there is no disruption of services in the B & I.
Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining stages today.
Bill put through Committee, reported without amendment and passed.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle Jim Tunney
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: This Bill is certified a Money Bill in accordance with Article 22 of the Constitution.
Dáil Éireann 335 British and Irish Steam Packet Company Limited (Acquisition) (Amendment) Bill, 1982: Second and Subsequent Stages.