Dáil Éireann - Volume 336 - 15 June, 1982

Private Members' Business. - National Film Studios of Ireland: Motion.

Mr. Kavanagh: I move:

That, having regard to the preservation of essential skills for servicing the film industry in Ireland, Dáil Éireann requests the Government to take whatever steps are necessary to maintain and develop the studio facilities at the National Film Studios of Ireland, Ardmore, Bray, County Wicklow.

During the course of my speech I will make known my views on the Government amendment and on the amendment tabled by The Workers' Party. If the Minister now wishes to accept our motion in full and if he will make immediate arrangements to re-employ the 35 people who are being made redundant at the National Film Studios, I will be very happy to give way to him and listen to what he has to say. We could finish this business in a very short time. I make that [205] offer before I continue with my contribution.

Aire na Gaeltachta (Mr. Flynn): Ní féidir liom glacadh leis an tairiscint sin.

Mr. Kavanagh: I take it the Minister will not avail of that opportunity. On 3 April last at about 6 o'clock in the evening the Minister made a statement that he intended to close the National Film Studios and put in a liquidator. The Dáil had gone into recess two days earlier but the Minister could have availed of the opportunity of coming into the House, giving that information and allowing a debate to take place. Instead he took the unusual step of giving the bad news at a time when the Sunday papers had already gone to press. At the weekend people are apparently more interested in the football results than in bad news. There was an attempt to fudge over this bad news at a time when the Dáil had just finished and public representatives could not raise the matter in the House.

On the following Monday a meeting was convened at very short notice by the workers at the National Film Studios to inform the general public and anybody who wished to attend the meeting of their views on the Minister's decision and to give the Minister their answer to the proposal.

It is worth giving the House a little of the background to film making in Ireland so that there will be an appreciation of what has been done by this decision to put the studios into liquidation. International films are, perhaps, best remembered by people but it is important to point out that there has been an indigenous film industry here since the foundation of the State and even earlier. The Abbey Theatre players took a major part in many of the locally made films in the early decades of the State. The first film which I recall being made on a very large budget was Henry V starring Laurence Olivier. As a schoolboy, I remember that film being made in Wicklow and in Dublin. The studios at Ardmore had not then been established. This was the first big film to bring to the attention of the [206] Hollywood magnates the potential of Ireland as a location for film making.

The National Film Studios were originally set up in 1958 as the Ardmore Film Studios and one of the early films made there was Shake Hands With The Devil, starring James Cagney. In the sixties a film called The Blue Max starring George Peppard was made on location here. This very building was used as part of the set for some of the scenes in that film, so even Dáil Éireann has a connection with film making. Outside we had “German soldiers” prancing up and down. Trinity College was also used. The Lion in Winter starring Peter O'Toole won six Academy Awards. Surely everybody remembers The Spy Who Came In From The Cold starring Richard Burton and in the seventies we had The Purple Taxi starring Fred Astaire and Peter Ustinov. I may be reminding Members of pleasant occasions in the past but these films underline the quality of the work done at Ardmore with the services and expertise of the workers there.

The Purple Taxi also had a little connection with the Dáil because the then Taoiseach, Deputy Jack Lynch, visited the set in Ardmore and I am sure he appreciated the quality of that film. By some coincidence the pub in that film, which was supposed to be in Galway, was called the “Jack Lynch” pub.

The Great Train Robbery starring Séan Connery was also made in the seventies and the most recent major international film to be made at Ardmore was Excalibur produced by John Boorman, the chairman of the National Film Studios. That film received the best artistic award at the Cannes Film Festival.

I mention these films in order to underline the quality of the product which Ardmore was and is capable of producing. I do not want to make a case just for an international film facility at Ardmore because I believe more than that can be done there. I want the House to understand what will happen as a result of the liquidator being sent in unless this decision is reversed by the Government. The employment potential was great. At the height of the film making some 300 people were employed as extras. That is [207] always possible when a big film is being made whether in Ardmore or elsewhere.

When Ardmore was set up, initially as Ardmore Studios Bray Ltd. and later as Ardmore Studios International Ltd., it had its troubles. The film industry has its ups and downs, peaks and hollows, booms and setbacks. In 1975 it was agreed by the Coalition Government to set up the National Film Studios of Ireland, use Ardmore studios and incorporate it as the basis for the film industry in Ireland. The then Minister for Industry and Commerce, Mr. Keating, brought legislation before the House. It was unanimously agreed that that should be the location of the Irish film industry. Shortly after Fianna Fáil came to power, the financial advances made to the film board dropped considerably. In 1979, £525,900 was made available in grants but in 1980 only £157,000 was made available. It was not unusual that by the end of 1981 the deficit should be climbing when the industry was starved of the necessary finance it should have had during the intervening years.

During the 23 years of film-making at Bray, the industry attracted 84 full-length feature films. If the facilities had not been there these films would not have been made here. I do not say that all these films were made or serviced in Ardmore but the name internationally connected with film-making here is Ardmore. During that period the total production expenditure on all these films was between £83 million and £85 million. I do not want to mislead the House. That was not money that was spent by the National Film Studios but money spent on production in this country. Since 1975 when the film industry was set up, £12½ million has been spent by international film makers here. The total losses incurred amounted to 2½ million. The wages and salaries bill came to £2.2 million. Although the country benefited to the tune of £12½ million, the studio lost £2½ million. There is no suggestion or cover-up that this was a highly profitable studio but people who worked in Ardmore and others who were available as extras between them put £2.2 million into their pockets. As against the [208] salaries paid the loss is identical — £2.2 million as against £2½ million.

If films were not made here what would those people have done? They would be on the dole. The ESB benefited as did the transport industry and others in the immediate area, for example, publicans, guest houses, hotels and so on. I did not include in the figure of £85 million the benefit to the tourist industry. The short-term profit that would be generated by a film being made in an area has been removed because of the decision taken.

The work available in the Bray area at Ardmore was sufficient for a permanent staff of 46. This has been reduced to 11 and if the liquidator and the Government have their way they will also go. I am not talking about the possibility of giving back jobs to 35 people but about the blow the closing down of the studio will be to an industry with a vast potential. Many famous people have made submissions to the Minister. He has been bombarded with material from all sides. The most important group to put a submision forward were the workers. They compiled a very erudite document and sent it to the Minister for consideration. It has been made available to all public representatives in the constituency. Those who attended public meetings were made aware of it. Contributions were expanded on by those with an interest in the film industry. I should like to made a few comments on the workers' submission. They told the Minister that Ardmore is a valuable national asset and should remain so for the following reasons.

(a) Ardmore Studios is the only film studios within the State. Its contribution to the country's prestige abroad is enormous and it is an intrinsic part of the cultural life of Ireland in the same way as the Abbey Theatre, Radio-Telefís Éireann, the National Concert Hall etc.

(b) The initial concept for Ardmore Studios was to present on film, our Irish culture to the world, utilising the best of Irish technical, craft and acting skills. The aspirations that motivated Louis Elliman and Major General Emmet Dalton, the founders of Ardmore [209] Studios, can find new life in this generation of Irish film workers and film makers.

(c) We must ensure that Ireland retains its rightful place in the rapidly expanding communications industry, with the advent of satellite TV, Cable TV and video production. It would be a national tragedy if the State were to dispose of our one facility which is geared to avail of these opportunities and place it in the control of private industry. A restructured Ardmore Studios must be retained within the State sector, possibly in co-operation with Bord Scannán, Radio Telefís Éireann and various other Government bodies.

That was the reasonable demand made by the workers to the Minister. The Minister, under the terms of his amendment, would continue the liquidator's operation to dispose of the assets and, in some other way through private industry, bring together some sort of film production team at Ardmore.

I am pleading with the Minister this evening to revoke the notices sent to the 35 workers. That is a reasonable request to the Minister, to show his earnest in a real Irish film industry. Thirty-five is not a great many jobs when compared with the whole of the employment problem at present confronting this country. For example, it would cost the IDA nearly £20,000 to replace 35 jobs in a factory. We are not asking for that; the facility and jobs are there.

Since the Minister announced the closure of the National Film Studios a very large production film has been lost to this country — I want to put this on record — a film called “The Jigsaw Man”. That film would have brought £450,000 per week to this country for 6 or 7 weeks. I want the Minister to realise that such would have been the yield from that film had his announcement not been made. When my colleague, Deputy Gemma Hussey, raised the matter of the National Film Studios on the Adjournment some weeks ago the Minister said there was no contract for a film. I am afraid this illustrates that the Minister for Industry and Energy knows very little about the film [210] industry because the people involved do not hawk contracts around from one country to another. Deals in that industry are made perhaps over a bar counter, perhaps on the back of a piece of paper which is passed on and built on afterwards. While the Minister may have been correct to say no contract was then available it should be realised that that film was known to have been available to this country. That film with a consequent yield of £450,000 a week was lost to our economy. When the closure announcement was made 46 jobs were put at risk immediately. Since the liquidator was aware that that closure would have to be communicated to a number of workers, letters were issued, on 4 June only, to 35 members of the staff. As a former Minister for Labour I should say that a semi-State body issuing that type of letter to its employees demonstrates little knowledge of the various Bills passed in this House in 1977 about how to sack employees. It shows little or no knowledge of how properly to go about sacking employees nowadays, when one remembers that employers must comply with certain laws passed in this House. This letter read:

Dear Mr. X

Wages and Salaries:

Any wages and salaries due to you up until 5.30 p.m. on 4 June 1982 (other than the Labour Court award) will be paid by cheque and sent in the post on Wednesday 9 June 1982.

Holiday Pay:

Any holiday pay due to you until 5.30 p.m. on 4 June 1982 will be paid by cheque and sent in the post on Wednesday 9 June 1982.

Minimum Notice:

Your entitlement to pay in lieu of minimum notice will have to be referred to the Employment Appeals Tribunal and their award will be paid in full as soon as funds are available.


You should make a claim for your redundancy at the local Department of Labour office. I will be completing the [211] appropriate forms which are entitled RP1, RP2 and RP3 and forwarding them to the Department of Labour within the next few days.

This letter was supposed to be handed to an employee who was being sacked and this was to be done on behalf of the State. The letter continued:

Labour Court Award:

The Labour Court's award in respect of restaurant, travelling allowance and pay increase has now been approved by the relevant Government authority.

Pension Scheme:

Your benefits under the pension scheme are now being calculated by the Trustees and the Life and Pension Company and you will be advised of the options available to you within the near future.


Your P45 will be sent to you by post on 9 June 1982.

I wonder what would have been the case had an employee died between the time this letter was issued and the announcement of closure of the studios? I wonder would such an employee's widow be entitled to benefit? I suppose there would have been some difficulty encountered there also. The letter ended:

Date of commencement:

According to the company's records available to us your date of commencement of employment was 1 April 1974.

They did not even seem to have available records of their employees. This demonstrates the haste there was in closing down these studios, haste by a Government barely in office. Surely this is not an 1982 version of a Fianna Fáil contribution to the economic ills of this country, to close down the National Film Studios.

Mr. N. Andrews: Does the Deputy not know that the Committee of Public Accounts recommended its closure in 1978?

[212] Mr. Kavanagh: Had the Deputy come in and listened to what I had to say about what those studios have contributed to our economy over the years perhaps he would have a somewhat different attitude to their employees. The Deputy might at least have come in and listened to my full contribution. Let me tell the Deputy what his colleagues in Government are doing at present in Wicklow. Since they resumed office Noritake have let some employees go on short time.

Mr. N. Andrews: The Government of which the Deputy was a member had not got the courage to take the decisions. Yet Fianna Fáil are being accused of not having the courage to take proper decisions.

Mr. Kavanagh: Tough decisions would have been taken had we remained in office but not stupid decisions to send money out of this country, preventing the yield of money which would have been to the benefit of our economy and our balance of payments had it remained here. That is the case I am making.

Mr. N. Andrews: The Deputy's case is not sustainable.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Moynihan): Would Deputy Kavanagh be allowed to speak without interruption?

Mr. Kavanagh: The point has been made that unemployment could have been avoided had certain decisions like these been taken. But since this Government have resumed office, Noritake have let go a large number of their employees on short time, Arklow Pottery also and Arklow/Gypsum when they were in office before, which involved 150 people in December 1980. Also there were 400 people let go in Nítrigin Éireann Teoranta when they were last in office. Then there were Metal Spinners in Newtownmountkennedy and a factory in Kilcoole. Before we came into office in 1981 a decision had been taken by the then Government to close Avoca Mines with a loss of 147 jobs. We reversed that decision. Avoca Mines are now working away and that industry's contribution in foreign [213] earnings is considerable. Since Fianna Fáil have resumed office an industry destined for Rathdrum, one of the smaller towns in my constituency, that of Trek Bicycles, has somehow moved from there and is setting up in a different county. That decision was taken in the last few months.

Mr. N. Andrews: Would the Deputy get back to Ardmore Studios?

Mr. Kavanagh: If the Deputy wants to hear about the employment situation in Wicklow let me say that one of the unfortunate things about Ardmore Studios was that, in the recent general election, Fianna Fáil won one seat in the Wicklow constituency; there remained three seats, two of which went to Fine Gael and one to Labour. That was the return. I think the Minister is taking it out on the people of Wicklow by the litany of decisions taken affecting the people of Wicklow. It would appear he is, taking it out on their employment potential because they did not return two Dáil Deputies for them. I hope Deputy Murphy will come in to back me up on this sad affair. He certainly has to bear the brunt of the problem created by the closure of Ardmore. The studio is in his town approximately a mile from where he lives.

I am making the case for the continuation of Ardmore Studios. I am not the only one who has done so. Many eminent people have been in touch with the Minister. The editorial in The Irish Press of 16 April 1982 said:

Mr. Haughey's encouragement of the arts is well known, something unique among Irish politicians for which he deserves the highest credit. Again, one wonders whether the decision takers involved in the decision to close Ardmore and put a number of very talented and dedicated people out of work was fully teased out with him before a decision so out of character was taken.

The Government's favourite journal have a considerable query in relation to what was going on there. People like King Vidor, Carrol O'Connor, Pat [214] O'Brien, Michael O'Herlihy, Dan O'Herlihy, Royal Dano, Iva Goff, Ben Roberts, Meta Rosenberg, Sandy Howard and Dana Wynter have also appealed on behalf of the studios. There are a number of quotations I could give from people who have pleaded with the Government to reverse the decision which was taken.

I am pleading with the Minister to reverse his decision, to think again about what he has done to County Wicklow, to think again of what he has done to the industry, to consider that there is another way of going about this, that there is an Irish film industry which can operate from this studio. If it is possible at this stage, will the Minister remove the liquidator and appoint a receiver? A liquidator is put into a premises to liquidate an asset, to liquidate a company such as the National Film Studios. Is it not possible to put in a receiver who will manage the studios while some new arrangement can be arrived at? If that is not possible can the liquidator not appoint a manager to run this studio for a period while there is a rethink of Government policy on it?

I know this decision was taken in haste and that there was not enough thinking behind it. I know there has been a considerable backlash against the Government because of this very thoughtless act. I suggest to the Minister that the studio should remain under Irish control. I agree with Sinn Féin's amendment that public ownership is the best solution to control the film industry in Ireland. I suggest that the Irish Film Board, the IDA and RTE could take shares in the new company and control the film studios in Ardmore. If the film studios are run on a tight budget and on a sound basis they can make money and can certainly break even. During the period of caretaker management between 1973 and 1975 by RTE the studios were run at a trading profit. The real reason why losses were made during that period was because of the heavy burden of financial charges.

I put those proposals forward to the Minister for consideration. We have the ability over the next few days to think again about the decision which has been [215] made. I do not believe there will be any loss of face if the decision is reversed. There will be great relief by a number of people who have lost their jobs in the film industry, especially the 35 people who have got their notice, if the Minister takes another look at this matter and agrees to the proposals I have made. If the Minister says he agrees with the proposals I will be quite happy to withdraw the motion in the name of the Labour Party and to accept an amendment, which will include the proposals I have put forward.

The Minister must surely say to the House that he will continue the employment of the 35 people who have got notice. Their expertise and their knowledge of the industry should be maintained for the future of the Irish film industry. The future of this industry is in danger if people like that are let go. The only thing they can do is to take the emigrant ship. There are facilities locked up in Ardmore at the moment which are required. A company from Britain are hiring equipment from Britain to make a commercial at £500 when the equipment is locked up in Ardmore and could be used. I do not believe there will be any crowing from this side of the House if the Minister changes his mind and if he continues the film industry at Ardmore. We will know that he is set on the right course to ensure we have a secure Irish film industry, based on Irish control and Irish-made films, that can make the facilities available to any international operators who wish to use them but that can also be used in Ardmore for the purposes the workers committee put forward to the Minister when he met them.

I know the interests of the Minister who is here tonight were looked after in the west of Ireland at a much greater cost to the community than the small amount of money which would keep this industry going at Ardmore. Wicklow is not the wealthy part of Ireland which people west of the Shannon think it is. There is a great scarcity of industry in County Wicklow. Most of this has been caused by the Fianna Fáil Government, who now have the opportunity to reverse what they have [216] been doing to industry and employment in Wicklow. I again appeal to the Minister to meet the reasonable case put forward for the maintenance of an Irish film studio at Ardmore. I assure him that the reasonable people from the studios who met him will certainly be prepared to talk about the future of the plant and equipment as well as the land that is there. If the sound equipment and the buildings at Ardmore are sold we cannot see a future for an Irish film industry.

Aire na Gaeltachta (Mr. Flynn): Tairgim leasú Uimh. 1:

To delete all words after “industry” and substitute the following:

“and the proposed disposal of the National Film Studios of Ireland Ltd. by the liquidator, Dáil Éireann requests the Government to take all reasonable steps to maintain the studio facilities at Ardmore, Bray, County Wicklow.”

The Government's decision to close the National Film Studios of Ireland Ltd. was taken in the knowledge of the substantial losses that had been incurred by it in the past and that there was no realistic prospect that these could be eliminated. Losses between 1977 and 1981 alone amounted to £2½ million and were projected to accelerate to £¾ million in 1982. Even operating the studios on a four wall basis in 1982 would have meant a loss of almost £½ million.

If one considers that the State has invested not only the £½ million purchase price, together with £100,000 in equity investment, and £1.5 million in direct Exchequer grants, it will be seen that, when added to bank borrowings of £1.8 million not much less than £4 million has been put into the company since it was taken over by the State. An important point to remember when discussing the Company's borrowings is that these were guaranteed by the Exchequer and that there is a statutory limit of £2 million on such guarantees. Since the bank was unwilling to increase its facilities to the company without such a guarantee, and since the company required in excess of £50,000 per month over and above any [217] commercial earnings to stay in business, it was apparent that NFSI needed some other source of finance to stay in business. Realistically, the only source for that finance was by provision for it in the 1982 Estimates and no such provision was made in the Estimates drafted by the Coalition Government. Indeed, I am somewhat bemused to note that the former Tánaiste and Minister for Industry and Energy is a signatory to this motion, which urges that whatever steps are necessary be taken by the Government to maintain the studios, when, under his stewardship, action was taken totally contrary to the sense of this motion. I am aware that it has been suggested that the then Minister was going to restructure the board of NFSI. I regret to say that that would have been a meaningless gesture in the absence of the funds necessary to keep the company operating.

In assessing the situation, the Government were aware that the relatively massive losses in the studios were due mainly to an inadequate volume of business and that there seemed to be no prospect of improvement in this regard. The situation in the film industry world wide appeared to be that the vast bulk of small and medium budget films are shot on location and that use of studios' facilities largely arises in connection with big budget films. Irrespective of the efforts of the film board on behalf of the studios there seemed to be little prospect of ever securing anything like an adequate flow of films requiring the use of the studios' facilities. In this regard, it might be pointed out that the need to support the National Film Studios and to ensure it some degree of turnover to minimise losses could have led to the absorption of a disproportionate amount of the film board's funds at the expense of the independent film makers who, in any realistic consideration of the matter, must be the source and foundation of a real Irish film industry.

I think the latter point can best be illustrated by pointing out that it was estimated in 1978 that the attraction of feature film making to Ardmore could cost £350,000 per film. When one remembers that the film board had £110,000 in [218] 1981 and £390,000 has been provided in the 1982 Estimates, it is apparent that in current price terms the board would not have sufficient to attract even one reasonable feature film per year to Ardmore, and at that would have nothing left for the independent producers. I believe this was the reasoning behind John Boorman's very realistic assessment of the situation when he recognised that Exchequer moneys are better invested directly in film production and would yield greater opportunities for job creation and the retention of skills in Ireland.

Indeed, the perception that the studios had indeed been swallowing all of the Exchequer's resources devoted to the development of a film industry in Ireland had led to growth of a hostility towards NFSI from some independent producers and other factions who actively boycotted the facilities.

It is also relevant to quote here the Dáil Committee of Public Accounts when reporting in November 1979 on the studios. It had this to say. “It appears to the Committee that public moneys are being spent on keeping alive a business which simply would not survive in the private commercial field. Furthermore, since it is commonly known that studios of this kind throughout the world are closing down, what is being done in this case could possibly be regarded as more in the nature of a public relations operation than the creation of a viable industry. The question which therefore concerns the Committee is the extent to which public moneys should continue to be spent on prestige and status and it feels therefore that because of the grave doubts as to the viability of NFSI, a speedy decision must be made as to the future involvement of the State in this enterprise.”

Mr. N. Andrews: That was accepted unanimously by the committee.

Mr. Flynn: That is correct.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Whatever about the correctness of what is alleged, it is not correct to be interrupting.

[219] Mr. N. Andrews: I apologise.

Mr. Flynn: It has been suggested that the Government have been too narrow in their interpretation of the financial benefits to the economy from the operations of NFSI and that account should also be taken of the money spent in the country by film makers using the studios' facilities. A figure of £12.5 million is cited in this regard as having been spent in Ireland since the studios were taken over by the State, and that this should justify Exchequer expenditure to date. Apart altogether from the fact that some of this money might have been spent in the country if the studios did not exist, and particularly that it almost certainly would have if the studios existed as a private concern, incurring expenditure of almost £4 million to achieve spending in this country of £12 million, and for which it must be emphasised these film makers would have received good value in terms of materials and services bought, makes no financial sense whatsoever. Although the example might be considered by some as a bit far-fetched, an illustration of the weakness of this factor as a justification for NFSI is that over the years 1976-1980 Bord Fáilte has generated spending in this country of some £1,948 million in return for a State input of £69 million. In other words, the State got a 28 to one return on its investment in Bord Fáilte compared to a three or four to one return on investment in NFSI.

I think the House will best appreciate the Government's position from the following: in terms of the budgetary needs of the Film Board in the context of extensive operations in relation to NFSI, the stated need for a tax incentive scheme, which, if it were to encourage Irish film-making would undoubtedly have meant a loss of tax revenue, to encourage film-making at Ardmore, the need to re-equip the studios ailing facilities, the cost of servicing existing borrowings and the potential for further losses, it is apparent that the cost to the State of keeping the studios open could have amounted to £2 million per year or a staggering £40,000 per job per annum. Given the imperative [220] need for available resources to be concentrated to the maximum extent on the creation of self-sustaining employment, this would represent a colossal waste of the taxpayers money.

Mr. Kavanagh: If it were true.

Mr. Flynn: The provision of such substantial sums simply could not be justified on any rational scheme of priorities.

In the light of the foregoing, the Government had no alternative but to authorise the closure and liquidation of the company at the earliest possible date. They did this in the knowledge that interest had been expressed by private sector parties in acquiring the studios. The liquidator is having discussions with several groups at present with a view to the sale of the studios as studios, and he is making every possible effort to achieve this objective since we are all in agreement that this is highly desirable. However, as stated by the Minister for Industry and Energy in the Dáil on 18 May in reply to Deputy Collins' request for an assurance that in disposing of the assets of the company he would ensure that a film-making facility is retained there, a commitment to do this regardless of cost cannot realistically be given.

It is for this reason that I have proposed an amendment to the motion, which requests the Government to take whatever steps are necessary to maintain and develop the studio facilities. Such an undertaking would be tantamount to a guarantee that, regardless of cost, studio facilities would be maintained there and that if ultimately necessary it would be done under State ownership. To accept such a position, after carefully arriving at the exact opposite as the appropriate conclusion, would be both inconsistent and seriously wrong. Consequently, I proposed the amendment, which I think reflects the Government's strong commitment to the retention of film facilities at Ardmore, consistent with the need to bear the taxpayers' interest in mind.

I was listening to Deputy Kavanagh when he suggested that the Minister for Industry and Energy had timed the announcement of the closure so as to [221] fudge the issue for the general public. I do not think that that is consistent with the form of the Minister for Industry and Energy when making announcements. It must be borne in mind that the statement was issued in the normal way, was given full publicity and was reported extensively in all the media and newspapers over several days of publication. It was unfair of Deputy Kavanagh to suggest that the Minister tried to fudge the issue in the way he stated.

We all accept it was regrettable that this step had to be taken but it was the only option open in accordance with the facts I have set out before the House. Deputy Kavanagh has not put forward any feasible alternative or option except to say that somehow or other we should take back and re-employ the people there without giving them a general idea of where they might be going subsequently.

Deputy Kavanagh listed a number of excellent films produced in the studios during the years and which I know gave great pleasure to many people. However, I ask him to bear in mind that many of the films made there more than likely would have been filmed in this country anyway. It is not consistent for him to say that it was because of the facilities that the films were produced here.

Mr. Kavanagh: The point I was trying to make was lost on the Minister. I said the skills were there to attract these people. We are trying to maintain the skills here.

Mr. Flynn: I will deal with the question of the skills.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Chair wishes that the Minister would not encourage any Deputy to interrupt. Deputy Kavanagh has made his contribution and I ask him to allow the Minister to proceed without interruption.

Mr. Kavanagh: Obviously the Minister misunderstood what I said.

Mr. Flynn: Deputy Kavanagh referred to the considerable skills of the people employed at Ardmore. I understand fully [222] that there were people there with considerable skills, but it is important that we understand precisely the breakdown of the skills involved. I understand that some 46 people were employed over a period. Out of the 46 people employed some eight of the total workforce would have been involved in camera, electrical and sound work. They would be the most highly skilled technical people employed at Ardmore. Eight others were employed in construction work. From my limited knowledge of construction work in studios I believe these people were joiners, carpenters and other props people. I understand also that of the total workforce some 14 people were involved in administration work. I take it that would be the typical type of administration work one would find in such an organisation involving accountancy and other skills necessary for that area. The remaining 16 people or thereabouts would be involved in security measures and there were some other staff involved with other facilities and general operations. While all of these people in their own right could be regarded as skilled in one way or another, I think the skills the Deputy was referring to were those connected with electrical, camera and sound operations.

Mr. Kavanagh: No.

Mr. Flynn: All the others are just as much entitled to be considered but from the contribution of Deputy Kavanagh the suggestion seemed to be that we were talking about 46 people who were highly skilled in technical matters as far as film making is concerned. That is not the case, and the record should be put right in that regard. I fully recognise that Ireland is an excellent location because of geography and climate and picturesque scenery for the purpose of filming on location. I agree that every effort should be made by the powers that be and all those connected with film making in one way or another to attract to this beautiful location any films that can possibly be attracted. Deputy Kavanagh is quite right in saying that considerable numbers of people get temporary employment on a casual basis [223] when major films are being filmed on location. But I would suggest to the Deputy that some of the major films, and one rather major film in my own county in recent years, did employ considerable numbers and, as I understand it, were not involved in any subsequent film making inside in Ardmore Studios. So the suggestion that if we cease operations in Ardmore we are going to kill off Ireland as a suitable place for filming on location is not quite accurate. I am quite sure the facilities we have by way of terrain, topography, geography and so on will continue to be an attraction and an incentive to the best and biggest film makers to come here and film on location. Caithfidh siad sin a chur san áireamh freisin nuair a bhíonn tú ag caint maidir le daoine a mheallú chun na tíre seo chun scannáin a chur ar fáil agus a dhéanamh.

It is incumbent on me to mention a reference that was made because it might lead people to think that the Minister or any of his agents were involved in something not quite human in the way the employees were dealt with. I would like to correct the notion that perhaps some semi-State organisation sent out letters that caused some concern to the former employees. As I understand it — and I will be delighted to stand back from this if I am given good grounds — the letters referred to by Deputy Kavanagh were issued by the liquidator and not by any of the staff of the semi-State company and I would expect that the liquidator, being skilled in his trade, would know the proper format for sending out such notifications. I presume that these were attended to with all due propriety.

Mr. Kavanagh: Once again the Minister has misunderstood what I said.

Mr. Flynn: I am wont to misunderstand a lot of things, but at the same time I would be delighted if at some future date perhaps the Deputy could refresh me on that matter and perhaps put me on the right line. I understood him to say that it was a casual or inhuman method of dealing with employees. While I can [224] readily understand the difficulties of a liquidator, when he moves into a situation he has to be not casual but very clear and distinct in what he does with the funds made available to him for the purpose of winding up or other form of activity he may be engaged in on behalf of the State or company and he would have to conform with very strict procedures in dealing with the funds made available to him. I presume the liquidator, skilled as he is in these administrative matters, did all in accordance with proper procedure. I would be concerned if I thought he did otherwise.

I heard what Deputy Kavanagh suggested concerning the Wicklow constituency. It was the second thing the Deputy said this evening that I thought was a little unfair and not his normal type of contribution. He suggested that there was an element of the Minister deliberately using sanctions against a particular constituency for a purpose which was less than honourable. I do not know——

Mr. Kavanagh: Deputy Andrews provoked me.

Mr. Flynn: Deputy Andrews is wont to do that too on occasions.

Mr. Kavanagh: He has disappeared now.

Mr. Flynn: I do not know what kind of politicking they go on with down in County Wicklow, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, but the way we do it down where I come from would seem to be a different matter altogether——

Mrs. Hussey: You build airports.

Mr. Flynn: ——when we find ourselves in the minority, which has not happened for some time and is not likely to happen in the foreseeable future. It was suggested that perhaps because there were two Fine Gael Deputies in the Wicklow constituency, one Labour Deputy and one Fianna Fáil Deputy the Minister was getting back at the constituency for not having done the thing properly on behalf of Fianna Fáil on the last outing. My [225] reaction to that, on finding myself in the minority situation, would be to do all I could to enhance the prospects of the return of Fianna Fáil to what Fianna Fáil should be in that constituency by the elimination of one Fine Gael or Labour candiate the next time out.

Mr. Kavanagh: You have been trying that for 50 years.

Mr. Flynn: That was a further rather unfair attack by Deputy Kavanagh on the Minister. As the Deputy knows, the Minister is not the type of person who would use his office to promote sanctions against any person, group or constituency in support of the betterment of a political identity of one kind or another. I would have thought that the Deputy would have had a stronger argument to make in support of his case rather than being reduced to making somewhat lame allegations concerning political behaviour that the Minister might or might not be involved in.

Mr. Kavanagh: I could have written a better script myself.

Mr. Flynn: It is reassuring indeed to hear from those benches over there the change of attitude that is taking place towards the project in the west mentioned by Deputy Kavanagh. Deputy Kavanagh suggested that I and others were very active in procuring a particular project for a particular part of the country. I would ask him to bear in mind that some of the people who were sitting behind him on the Labour benches were very vocal in opposing this. It is reassuring to hear now that the penny has dropped and that there has been a change of heart in many on the Labour benches, just as there has been a change of heart in many on the front bench of Fine Gael concerning a project which shall be nameless because it is now nationally well known. I have no doubt that we will be hearing more about it despite the fact that there has been somewhat of a lull in regard to it since the general election. But it serves no purpose now because it [226] is going to be the finest project ever promoted by any Department or agency.

Mr. Kavanagh: Tell that to the people in Ardmore.

Mr. Flynn: As a Government, we are very concerned that the highest levels of employment be maintained in this country and that job opportunities be provided for all who can possibly be accommodated in this way. It is not the wish of the Government to do anything to reduce employment levels. It is regrettable that this step had to be taken. But it has been agreed by all that there is no way this operation can be made viable. But, despite all that, the Minister is so concerned that we should have facilities here and that this country should be utilised as a major location for film making now and in the future that he is using all the good offices at his disposal to get an operator involved to continue the studios if at all possible in the private sector and I am happy that this might come about in the not too distant future. Then we might all be in a position to accommodate the skills of the technicians involved in sound and camera who were employed there in the recent past.

A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, iarraim ort an leasú thar ceann an Aire Tionacail agus Fuinnmh a ghlacadh agus cuirfidh me os comhair na Dála arís é:

That, having regard to the preservation of essential skills for servicing the film industry in Ireland and the proposed disposal of the National Film Studios of Ireland Ltd. by the liquidator, Dáil Éireann requests the Government to take all reasonable steps to maintain the studio facilities of Ardmore, Bray, County Wicklow.

Mrs. Hussey: May I ask for guidance from the Chair on a technical point? The Minister, when reading the Government's amendment included two words which are not in the circulated amendment. The Government amendment in front of me says:

To delete all words after “industry” [227] and substitute the following: and the proposed disposal...”

The Government propose to delete the words “in Ireland”. I am at a loss how to proceed because I intend to talk about the film industry in Ireland. Is it correct for me to debate something which the Minister read out differently from what was circulated? This is an important point.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: My immediate reaction is that we are discussing the film industry in Ireland.

Mr. Flynn: I cannot imagine us discussing any other film industry.

Mrs. Hussey: It is a pity the Government deleted the words “in Ireland”. Assuming that was done in error, I will proceed on the assumption that the Government's amendment includes “in Ireland”. Listening to the Minister's speech which, I am sorry to say, I found difficult enough to listen to, I got the impression we were at a burlesque show. It was a pity a note of what I would describe as derision entered this debate which is very serious for the constituents represented by my Labour colleague and for the future of an Irish film industry, and all the implications that has for those involved in the artistic and cultural life.

When the Government's amendment came to hand it implied a change of heart. Despite the rather bizarre amendment with a member of the Government to take all reasonable steps——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The amendment reads: That Dáil Éireann requests the Government...”

Mr. Hussey: The Minister is asking the Government of which he is a member——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: That is the normal format.

Mrs. Hussey: To me it seems very strange, whether or not it is normal. The [228] Government's amendment appeared to imply something quite different from what unfortunately emerged from the Minister's speech, which in many ways resembled the replies given by the Minister for Industry and Energy to the representations made to him in this House by myself and others since this decision was first taken. I fully agree with Deputy Kavanagh when he deplores the manner in which this announcement was made, late on a Saturday evening. Such a sudden announcement caused a great deal of shock and distress.

I approach this matter under two headings — one as my party's spokesperson in that area and, secondly, as a person who was reared on the road in which the studios are situated. In the Minister's speech there was no reference to the artistic or cultural benefits of having film studios in Ireland. This would seem to run counter to the Taoiseach's stance on the arts and to put a question mark over his commitment to the encouragement of the arts. As was quoted earlier, The Irish Press made that point very forcibly in their editorial which asked for a change of heart in this and two other areas. They described it as “a decision out of character with Mr. Haughey's record of artistic encouragement”.

Very strong reaction to the decision came from many people, especially, the studio workers who, since the announcement of closure, have proceeded in a very organised way to make their case. They were joined by some people the Minister accused of being hostile to the studios — independent film producers and many bodies involved in film making. The general outcry surprised the Government and I had hoped that by now it would have made more of an impact than it seems to have done.

I am very glad the Labour Party tabled this motion because it gives us a renewed opportunity to make a case for the very special circumstances surrounding the Ardmore film studios. I would like to endorse the concern expressed by Deputy Kavanagh when he placed this closure in the context of what the county has suffered through a loss of employment in recent years. It seems to the [229] people in County Wicklow that not a week goes by but they get more bad news about job losses. This shock announcement on 3 April had a great effect on them. I had hoped that this renewed effort on the part of concerned people, particularly the public representatives from the county, would have elicited a more temperate response.

I would ask also whether the Government had seriously considered the film industry in the context of a newly-established Irish Film Board with a budget of £4 million over four years. I expected from the Minister of State an outline of what the Government felt was the place of an Irish film industry in Ireland of the eighties and the prospects of such an industry as society, we hope, emerges from the recent sad recession years. Unfortunately, no such light was thrown on that subject or, from an artistic point of view, on whether the Government consider the film an art form. That is one of the saddest features of the Minister of State's speech.

When the sudden closure of the studios was announced on 3 April — which closure was subsequently delayed for many weeks, I believe because of reaction to the unexpected protests from so many sectors of society — there was general amazement that something so important would have been axed so very quickly. Extraordinarily, this announcement coincided, as far as I am aware, with the first public meeting of the Irish Film Board. This board met to discuss their role in the future of the Irish film industry when our only film studios were being closed. My understanding is that the Irish Film Board would like the National Film Studios to remain as a studio facility, as a back-up for a future Irish film industry.

It is important to say that I would not ask for a re-opening of the film studios as an adjunct to Hollywood. Everyone, looking at the difficulties which the studios have faced over the last few years, is aware that there is a need for a new look at the structure and operation of the studios. I do not believe that Deputy Kavanagh was asking — and I certainly am not — either for the creation or retention of unreal jobs. The people working [230] in the studios do not want unreal jobs — they wish to be part of a lively, growing, profit-making industry.

I wonder why the Minister's speech omitted any reference to the £2 million a year commercial film making business. Short commercial films have been made extensively at these studios. The input from commercial film making was not enough, unfortunately, to overcome all the financial difficulties. However, the commercial film making industry has a spin-off effect on a far wider spectrum than the technical people and others involved in the Ardmore studios in Bray. It involves, perhaps, as many as 100 to 120 technicians around the country involved in the making of commercial films. Without the facility of Ardmore studios, many involved in that industry believe that it will take itself off to the nearest large centre equipped with the studio facilities needed — that is, London — and that that growing industry will be lost to us as well. I am sorry that we did not discuss the future of that section of the film industry, which is extremely important.

Nobody would undertake now the building and fully equipping of film studios such as we have in Ardmore. Those studios are an asset which should and must, be kept for the use of an Irish film industry and the development of film making here in general. Ardmore studios were expensive enough to build many years ago but they are of a very high standard and it would be the utmost folly and a very negative approach to allow them to disappear.

Deputy Kavanagh mentioned in passing that from 1973 to 1975 the studios made a small profit. They were then under the caretaker management of RTE. I believe that it would be possible to return to that situation quite quickly if the Minister would only use his undoubted talents and business sense to look anew at the industry, at the studios and their running.

The Minister has said that the debts accumulated by the studios will be wiped out if they are to be sold to someone who will use them for a film industry. It is logical enough to suggest that if the Minister [231] is prepared to wipe out these debts he should wipe them out and start the studios again rather than hand them over unencumbered to somebody else. That aspect was not mentioned at all.

A very important aspect is the question of the employment of the undoubted Irish acting talent. For example, the Abbey Theatre has a corps of some of the finest actors in Europe, if not, the world. The Minister did not complain about the continuing sizeable grants to the Abbey Theatre, which is considered a part of our artistic heritage — grants which should be much higher. It is important to consider the film studios, not only as a business — there are much wider aspects to the question than industrial [232] and commercial. Unfortunately, the Minister appears to be approaching this question to the exclusion of any other aspects. The pending unemployment of the actors was one of the reasons why Irish Actors' Equity were so upset about the threatened closure of the studios. The development of the creative skills of Irish film makers will cease if the film industry is not allowed to develop, using the studios not only as an area for the making of films of commercial value but also for training young film makers.

Debate adjourned.

The Dáil adjourned at 8.30 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 16 June, 1982.