Seanad Éireann - Volume 140 - 27 April, 1994

Irish Shipping Limited (Payments to Former Employees) Bill, 1994 [Certified Money Bill] : Second Stage.

Question proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

[212] Minister for the Marine (Mr. Andrews): It is a pleasure for me to be here. This is an important Bill and one of its distinguishing features is the speed and thoroughness of the concise scrutiny to which it was subjected during its passage through the Lower House. In the nature of things, this Bill remedies a national tragedy, a shameful interlude in our history which began in 1984 when the then Irish Shipping Company went into liquidation.

In advance of my referring to my notes, I would pay tribute to my predecessor in office, Deputy Woods, who is the author of this Bill. It is an excellent Bill which seeks to remedy a national tragedy, and it remedies that tragedy to a certain extent. However, it cannot undo the psychological damage done to men and women who were seafarers by nature and by action. Their psychological hurt about losing their jobs cannot be undone — some of them were never to work again. Some of them got work as harbour masters or port controllers etc., but, they never returned to their original profession — the operation of ships at sea.

Irish Shipping had a proud record, a record second to none in the context of the Second World War. The ships were manned — if I may use that politically incorrect expression — by men of great courage and bravery, who sailed the high seas with the goods and chattels which were so necessary to an island nation at the time; men who foresaw when they left this country to collect their cargoes that the trips out and back would be an adventure where their lives would be at stake. For that reason, it gives me great pleasure to pay tribute to Deputy Woods and to my colleague Deputy G. O'Sullivan, who was of great assistance to me. One of the complaints about this Bill was that it was not brought forward soon enough. Speed can sometimes do damage and deliberation was the key in the context of this Bill.

I welcome the opportunity to present this Bill to the Seanad and to hear Senators' contributions. When I introduced the Bill in the Dáil last week I did so with mixed emotions. Like many [213] others, I regretted the liquidation of Irish Shipping in November 1984 and its consequences for so many people. On the other hand I am pleased to introduce a measure which enables us to give due and meaningful recognition to those most directly affected by the liquidation, the staff of the company.

The collapse of Irish Shipping Limited was a traumatic event in the history of the State. As with many other traumatic incidents its victims were wounded suddenly and deeply, without any warning. This Bill represents, I hope, a final point in the healing process. I am not sure if it is a final point of the cure, but it is certainly a final point in the healing process, as far as legislation can do that.

Irish Shipping Limited came into operation to meet the State's trading requirements during World War II. The fortitude of Irish Shipping crews helped secure the supply of essential services to the State during those difficult years. I fervently hope that the heroism of those involved will never be forgotten by the State.

Irish Shipping Limited continued to operate and expand after the war years. For a generation of our school children the operations of the company were an important part of the geography lesson; the movement and location of its vessels in different parts of the world were followed with interest. I recall, as a relatively young schoolboy, our geography lessons being given in the context of the location of Irish ships on the high seas. It was instructive and I recall it with great fondness. It is rather unusual and ironic that I should today, almost 40 years later, introduce a Bill which will lessen the hurt that was done to those people in November 1984.

The State for its part was happy in the knowledge that the existence of the company ensured that a strategic fleet was available in the event of any future emergency. However, shipping is a cyclical industry and for more than three decades the company successfully steered a steady course through peaks and troughs. It experienced a downturn in trading in the late 1970s and early 1980s [214] and found it could not meet the resultant financial commitments. The “big bang” followed with liquidation in 1984.

The liquidation of Irish Shipping Limited was a severe body blow to our merchant shipping fleet which was effectively halved; it was also a severe body blow to the psyche of the nation. During the time of Seán Lemass, the tide was beginning to turn, but unfortunately, when boats sank it was a huge psychological and tragic blow to the nation which, at that time, was effectively on the move. Overnight, the bulwark which had sustained our strategic fleet had disappeared; a highly regarded, wholly State owned company had disappeared.

Our merchant fleet has recovered since the demise of Irish Shipping Limited, thanks largely to incentives introduced in 1987. The fleet, contrary to experience elsewhere in the EU, has increased from 142,000 deadweight tons in 1986 to approximately 190,000 deadweight tons currently.

The decline in the fortunes of EU fleets over the past 15 years or so has coincided with the rapid growth in flags of convenience which use third world crews, often poorly trained, poorly paid and with little regard for safety. As Minister for Defence and the Marine I have observed these third world flags of convenience countries. They are a threat to themselves and to other shipping because inevitably these crews do not have a common language, cannot commute inter alia the bridge and the ship proper, are poorly trained and are generally badly prepared for the job in hand. The increased use of flags of convenience has been a recognised factor in the increase of serious maritime accidents with detrimental effects on the marine environment and, more unfortunately, loss of life at sea.

The ethos represented by flags of convenience is the antithesis of the reputation which had been earned by Irish Shipping crews and the Irish merchant fleet generally over many years; that of well trained, highly regarded seafarers [215] and officers operating to the highest professional standards.

In spite of the advances made since 1987, the Irish fleet, like all EU fleets, is under severe pressure due to competition from flags of convenience vessels. The position is further complicated by the array of different measures which have been introduced by member states to confront this difficulty. Unfortunately, a huge bureaucracy is building up in certain member states as a direct result of the need to arrest the problem on the high seas. Actions taken to date, however, have not succeeded in arresting the decline in EU fleets, and, ironically, have led to a competitive distortion between member states which needs to be rectified.

Recognising these difficulties, the Programme for a Partnership Government, 1993-1997 undertook to have a review carried out of the fiscal and regulatory measures affecting merchant shipping with a view to enhancing employment opportunities for Irish seafarers. This review is under way in consultation with interested parties. The Department, in order to inform and advance the process, plans to have an economic evaluation of the shipping industry carried out during the coming months. It is my concern that this evaluation be done as a matter of expedition and urgency.

There can be no doubt, however, as to the general direction in which we wish to move — safe ships, manned by suitably trained crews; clean seas and the maximum opportunities for qualified Irish and EU seafarers.

If the general public was stunned and disappointed by the liquidation of Irish Shipping Limited, its employees were devastated. The company which they had nurtured and served, some from its inception, others for many years, had collapsed like a house of cards. The careers which many had established in the company over the years had been tragically terminated. They faced into an insecure future with little recompense to sustain them.

While the State fulfilled its statutory [216] obligations in relation to payments under the Redundancy Payments Acts, the company was not in a position to pay anything more. Some of the staff were fortunate enough to be able to ease the pain caused by liquidation by securing alternative employment; others were not so fortunate. It was most unfortunate that when the liquidation suddenly occurred in 1984, there was no place for some of the staff to go.

The purpose of the Bill is two-fold. It is a measure of recognition for service rendered to the State by the staff in question and it is also a measure of relief in relation to the loss and trauma endured because of the circumstances of the liquidation.

I do not propose to speak in detail about the provisions of the Bill before the House. These will be thoroughly discussed on Committee Stage. The purpose of the Bill is to provide the necessary legal framework for implementation of the Government's decision last December to make ex-gratia once-off payments to certain former employees of Irish Shipping Limited.

The commitment which I made then to introduce the necessary legislation at the earliest possible date has been delivered on with all possible speed but not at the expense of credibility or thoroughness. At this stage I am making a further commitment that following enactment of the Bill payments will be made expeditiously. The Bill outlines that payments should be made over a period of 12 months and that applications must be submitted within that period. As soon as those applications are received they will be processed and payments made as a matter as urgency. Enough hurt has been caused already and there is no reason this sad episode in our maritime history should not be concluded.

Under the terms of the Bill, certain former employees, or the representatives of deceased former employees, will be eligible for payment of a lump sum equivalent to three weeks' pay per year of service up to a ceiling of £50,000 per employee. It is expected that just over 300 people will qualify for payment at a [217] gross cost to the State or taxpayers of £3.5 million.

Those entitled to payment are persons who at the date of liquidation of the company, 14 November 1984, were employees of the company, having had at that date at least two years' continuous employment and who make application for payment in the manner specified. Only those former employees who are eligible for payment may receive payment. In this context, I would like to stress that applicants must have been in the employment of Irish Shipping Limited at the date of liquidation.

A committee representing Government Departments is to be set up to assist and advise on the assessment of the applications, once the legislation is passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas. The processing of payments to the former employees will follow as quickly as possible after the Bill becomes law and the committee is being set up purely and simply to facilitate and, I hope, expedite that process. I wish to stress this point strongly in view of concerns expressed in the Dáil last week. The purpose of the committee is to bring together the relevant expertise in the areas of redundancy, tax and finance and thus enable applications to be speedily dealt with in a fully informed and thorough way.

Some Deputies suggested widening the composition of the committee to include nominees other than departmental officials. I think it was a fair point and I have considered the matter very carefully and sympathetically. On balance, I do not think this will add anything to the process and I do not propose to widen the committee in the way suggested. I can assure you, a Chathaoirligh, and all representative and interested parties, however, that the Department will keep representatives of the former employees fully informed of developments throughout the processing of applications. Explicit arrangements to ensure this will be put in place. If anybody who is not represented on the proposed committee makes themselves known as individuals or organisations, they will be kept fully informed of what is going on in the committee. [218] I feel that the smaller committees, the quicker business can be done in the overall interests of what we seek to achieve.

Recovery from the effects of the liquidation of Irish Shipping Limited has been a slow and at times painful process for all concerned. I believe that the terms of the Bill, which are acceptable to the former employees' committee, provide, at last, a fitting and appropriate ending to a trauma which none of us would wish to see repeated. I strongly commend the Bill to the House.

Mr. Howard: This legislation is not controversial in the objective it is seeking to achieve. Therefore, I welcome the Bill and I support its objective. It will, as the Minister has explained, enable the State, through the Department of the Marine, to make payments to former employees of Irish Shipping Limited. I concur with the Minister's view that the fate of Irish Shipping Limited was very regrettable and I endorse his comments on the excellent service Irish Shipping Limited rendered to this country during the war years. I join him in acknowledging the courage and bravery of the people who manned ships flying the Irish flag during that difficult period. The fate of Irish Shipping as a State company was regrettable. The Minister has spoken of the company's highs and lows but we have to acknowledge that poor management played a part in the tragic circumstances that emerged in 1984. We must also question the structures by which the State should have been apprised in time of the financial difficulties which led to the liquidation of the company. It would appear from the history of the period that checks and balances which are present to a greater degree now in monitoring the performance of State companies, were not in position then and their absence no doubt contributed to the difficulties.

The people who really suffered were the former employees. Their losses, which for many were severe, occurred through no fault of their own. I remember meeting representatives of the former employees on a number of occasions outside [219] the gates of Leinster House. My attitude was quite close to one of embarrassment because of the situation in which these people found themselves. Although ten years have passed, I welcome the steps being taken by the Government to compensate for the trauma and loss the employees of Irish Shipping endured. I am glad the position is now being rectified and I support the measure the Minister has brought before the House.

I was interested in the Minister's observations about the position of EU fleets and the pressure confronting them from fleets operating under flags of convenience. There is an urgency to confront this situation and to resolve it. I am satisfied from what the Minister has said that he is approaching the subject with this in mind.

I said the measure was non-controversial by and large as well as being one whose objective I support. If there was any part of the Bill about which I had reservations, it would be the composition of the committee which will advise on these payments. As I understand section 3, this committee will essentially sift through individual applications and make decisions concerning their validity as well as the amount to be allocated. I would prefer to have seen representations from the employees. However, I know that this is a matter more suited to Committee Stage. At present, I am simply indicating the areas about which I have reservations. The committee will comprise five members: two from the Department of the Marine and one from the Department of Enterprise and Employment. I do not anticipate problems in that regard. However, the remaining two positions will be filled by nominees from the Department of Finance and the Revenue Commissioners. These two bodies are not noted for their urgency or eagerness in paying grants or other money due to members of the public. I do not want to see an impediment to the speed with which decisions or payments are made. [220] The Minister expressed the hope that the sums involved would be speedily paid.

The Bill provides for the allocation of £3.5 million for 300 employees with a ceiling of £50,000 in individual cases. There will be 300 applicants, some of whom will be personal representatives of deceased employees of Irish Shipping. I am concerned that if the committee must adjudicate on 300 individual applications — bearing in mind the composition of the committee — there will be additional delay to the already lengthy waiting period endured by the employees. The inclusion on the committee of representatives of the employees and others who have been affected would be beneficial. However, we can discuss these matters on Committee Stage.

I support the objective of the Bill.

Mr. Fitzgerald: I support the Bill. I congratulate the Minister for the Marine, Deputy David Andrews, for introducing it and ensuring that compensation is paid to former members of Irish Shipping Limited.

Agreement on compensation has been delayed for about ten years. I am delighted that it has been finalised and that the crews of Irish Shipping, who have served this nation well in good times and bad, will get their just entitlements. I remember when, after 40 years' service to the State, the liquidation of Irish Shipping Limited was announced in 1984. It was a shock, especially to people in rural Ireland and those older than I who could remember when Irish Shipping was founded and how its ships, during the economic war and World War II, ensured that Irish people would have the food, grain, fertilisers etc., that were required for survival.

It is no harm to take a brief look at the 40 year history of Irish Shipping Limited; it would take several hours to give the full history of the company. Irish Shipping Limited developed from a modest start in 1941. A meeting was held in Dublin on 21 March 1941 at Earlsfort Terrace which was, I think, known at the time as the Department of Supplies. The meeting was chaired by John Leyden, the secretary [221] of the Department. The outcome of the meeting was the formation of a national shipping company to be known as Irish Shipping Limited. There was a total of £200,000 in shareholding: £102,000 held by the Minister for Finance, £87,500 held by Grain Importers Limited, £3,500 held by Limerick Steamship Company Limited, £3,500 held by Palgrave Murphy Limited and £3,500 held by Wexford Steamship Company. The Emergency Powers Order authorised the Minister for Finance to buy shares from the shipping companies to enable the State to have full control if required.

The objectives were to acquire, operate and maintain the deep sea merchant fleet in order that the country's economy and people could survive the course of the war. Urgency was a key word; a minimum of 30 ships were needed if the level of pre-war imports was to be maintained. When required, management of the company would be placed in the hands of the three ship owning partners.

The first vessel bought by Irish Shipping was a Greek ship, the Veasilios Denstounis, purchased for £142,000. The vessel had been abandoned off the Atlantic coast of Spain after an air attack. Spanish fishermen boarded the vessel, took it to their home port of Aviles and were awarded £80,000 for the salvage. Captain Moran and two other officers travelled to Aviles and took delivery of the ship on 9 April 1941. During examination of the ship they found it had been stripped of all movable equipment, including the radio which had been confiscated by the Spanish authorities.

After some repairs the vessel was released to sail to Lisbon and an Irish crew was sent to Aviles to man her. The ship was taken to Lisbon, where she entered dry dock and was repaired. After loading a full cargo of grain — the first load on Irish Shipping's first ship — the vessel sailed for Dublin on 1 October 1941. On her arrival on 8 October she was renamed the Irish Poplar and left again on 20 December 1941 for St. John's, Newfoundland, on her first transAtlantic voyage.

[222] The next ship to join the fleet was the Irish Elm. By the end of 1941 ten ships were operated by the new company. Most of them required immediate repairs and some needed extensive repair, but there were few Irish facilities for that purpose. There were only two dry docks in operation, both in Dublin, and neither was suitable for deep sea vessels.

In order to perform repairs on their vessels, Irish Shipping established an Irish Dockyard Company in May 1941, taking over the old Rushbrook dockyard which had lain derelict since 1930. It was reactivated and by April 1942 was in use for the repair and overhaul of the fleet. It also proved useful to the privately owned vessels of the merchant fleet and units of the marine service. The first ship repaired in the Cork dockyard was the Irish Larch.

In April 1942 another vessel was purchased, which became the Irish Spruce. The search continued for possible purchases and over 100 ships were inspected, with only 15 bought or chartered by 1943. The two largest vessels operating during the war years were the Irish Pine and the Irish Rose, chartered from the US Government in September 1941. Unfortunately both were victims of U-boats in 1942 and 1943; the Irish Pine was lost with all hands. Another ship was bought in 1943 and renamed the Irish Cedar. She was the last ship acquired by the company during World War II.

When Irish Shipping was originally formed it was intended that the company only be used until the end of the war, however soon that came. In 1944 the chairman of Irish Shipping announced the Government had decided the company should continue after the war ended. It is interesting to note that during World War II the Irish Shipping Company Limited carried 712,000 tonnes of wheat, 178,000 tonnes of coal, 63,000 tonnes of phosphate, 24,000 tonnes of tobacco — many people smoked then also — 19,000 tonnes of newsprint and 10,000 tonnes of timber, as well as an assortment of general cargo totalling 105,000 tonnes. It is also interesting to note that all petroleum imports were carried [223] in British flagships and Ireland did not acquire any tankers during the war.

The company lost two ships during the war with a loss of 33 lives. The crew of five ships, totalling 166 men and including 33 survivors from the company's Irish fleet, were rescued by Irish Shipping vessels during the war. After the war Irish Shipping Limited took over the management and operation of its vessels and began the replacement of its old and obsolete fleet. Arrangements were made to return chartered vessels to their former owners and the Irish Cedar was returned to Italy.

In 1945 orders were placed for the construction of seven vessels at a cost of £1.7 million. The Irish Shipping Bill, 1947, contained a provision to increase the capital of the company to £5 million, with the authority of the Minister for Finance, and a provision to pay subsidies to guarantee loans. After the war two vessels were chartered as a stop gap until the delivery of the new vessels. The cadet scheme for deck and engineering officers, which was introduced in 1943, was also expanded during 1947. The first of the new vessels, the Irish Rose, entered service in July 1948 and made its first voyage to the Baltics under the command of Captain Frank Kelly. It was joined in October by its sister ship, the Irish Willow, which was launched in May. Over the next couple of years, these ships were joined by others which became household names, the Irish Pine, the Irish Ash and the Irish Hazel.

Two colliers were ordered, the Irish Heather, which was delivered in August 1952, and the Irish Fern, which was delivered in December 1954. These were soon employed in Bristol, Shannon, Cork and Dublin by Córas Iompair Éireann. In December 1953 the steamer, the Irish Elm, entered service. It had been ordered in a second building programme and it was the first ship in the fleet to be equipped with refrigerated cargo space. A further building programme was embarked on in November 1951 with Government guarantees. Orders were placed for two motor ships in 1954 and [224] the first of these, the Irish Rose, was launched in 1955. Its sister ship, the Irish Willow, followed soon afterwards and both were in service by the end of 1956. They were joined by the Irish Fir on 31 December 1956.

In 1955 it was announced at the AGM of Irish Shipping that the Minister for Finance would take up the additional shares for the £5 million authorised share capital. By 1959 Irish Shipping Limited had a fleet of 20 ships and a fleet of traditional steamers, motor ships, colliers and small goods carriers. Their average age was five years and there was none older than 11 years. It had a modern, well equipped fleet but the shipping world was changing. Larger diesel powered ships now combined the modernisation of the fleet. Irish Shipping Limited decided to sell or convert the older ships and to give old war powered steamers and older larger vessels diesel powered engines. The first ship to be converted was the Irish Oak, which was given a new engine, and shortly afterwards its sister ship, the Irish Pine, was similarly converted.

During this time negotiations were taking place between the Irish Government and the ship building industry for the sale of the Rushbrook dockyard. On 9 January 1959 a contract of purchase was signed. The first ship to be laid down at the new shipyard on 15 October 1960, was a 14,700 tonne deadweight cargo vessel order by Irish Shipping Limited for delivery in 1962. The Irish Oak II was the first ship to head for the Great Lakes in 1960 thus winning for her Master Captain J. Poole, later Commandant Poole, the freedom of the City of Duluth. Two further vessels, 15,000 tonne boat carriers, were ordered in 1961 from Verolme.

The fortunes and misfortunes of Irish Shipping Limited continued until 1971 when two events threatened to upset the careful planning of the fleet. First, the bombshell news that the Upper Clyde shipbuilders were to go into liquidation thereby placing the building of four new ships in doubt and, second, the decision by both of Irish Shipping's partners in the ferry service to France to withdraw from [225] that route at the end of the 1971 season. The news of the withdrawal of the partners in the ferry service so late in the season made it impossible for the company to organise a service for 1972. The service which had operated successfully since 1956 came to an end.

Further misfortune befell the company with the loss of another vessel on 26 January 1972. The vessel, which was on a voyage to New Orleans, was declared a loss after grounding off Nicaragua. In the report of the year ending 1 March 1972, the chairman said he was in a position to report a profit, although it was a modest one. In his review of the company he said that the year just ended had been one of severe difficulty for those operating on the international shipping scene. The difficulties facing the industry were escalating costs, low freight rates and the devaluation of the pound.

In February 1973 the first of the new carriers entered service. She was the Irish Pine III followed at two monthly intervals by her three sister ships, the Irish Maple II, the Irish Oak III and the Irish Ash III. Another step forward in 1973 was the formation of a new company to operate a ferry service between Rosslare and Le Havre. This was called the Irish Continental Line and a passenger and car carrying vessel was launched on 17 January 1973. The vessel was named the St. Patrick and on completion she entered service in June 1973. It is also interesting to note that in 1973 the first female to serve as a crew member joined the Irish Maple as a junior radio officer.

Another ferry, the St. Killian, was purchased in 1978. Irish Shipping Limited had come a long way since 1966 when the company found itself in severe financial difficulties following a period of heavy losses. There was a large debit balance on the company's profit and loss account. From 1967 to 1981 the company maintained a steady profit which continued to rise each year. Profits in 1967-68 totalled £20,345 and, in 1980-81, they totalled £4.214 million. Irish Shipping had come a long way since the £200,000 was invested in 1941.

[226] During the war Irish Shipping set up an apprenticeship scheme for training deck and engineering officers. That scheme was in place until its liquidation. In March 1981 Irish Shipping Limited took over the management of their smallest ship, the sail training vessel Asgard II which was named by the then Taoiseach, Mr. Charles Haughey, at Arklow where she was built to take the place of an earlier vessel built in 1905 and which is now preserved in Kilmainham.

Mr. Andrews: It is rotting in Kilmainham.

Mr. Fitzgerald: We should try to preserve it.

Mr. Andrews: I have made every effort to do so. It is a national shame.

Mr. Fitzgerald: In 1984 Irish Shipping came to an end through liquidation. It was not a proud day for the ships and crews which had sailed the seas and had served this nation to the best of their ability. We owe a debt of gratitude to Irish Shipping, especially for their contribution during the war years and thereafter. At times the crews, deck hands and captains of these ship took their lives in their hands, and some lost their lives, to ensure that others would survive in times of need.

I salute the former employees of Irish Shipping. I hope that the passing of this Bill will in some way compensate them for the years of hardship. I understand approximately 300 will benefit from this Bill, but unfortunately over the years there has also been a toll and, I understand, some 20 former employees have passed on. It is gratifying that section 7 makes provisions for the payment of lump sums to personal representatives of deceased persons.

In his Second Stage speech in the Dáil the Minister said — and he said so again today — that his sentiments in introducing this Bill were a mixture of sadness and satisfaction. He concluded by saying he hoped these measures would facilitate a solution to the problem and that a sad [227] chapter in our economic and maritime history could be put to rest. I endorse what the Minister said and I commend the Bill. I thank the Minister, the Minister of State at the Department of the Marine, Deputy G. O'Sullivan and the former Minister for the Marine, Deputy Woods, who worked hard to bring this Bill to fruition.

Mr. Norris: I welcome the Bill. It is ten years since Irish Shipping was dissolved and it is no surprise that this decent treatment of former employees of Irish Shipping should be introduced by this Minister. He was a humane and forward looking Minister for Foreign Affairs and he has shown these qualities throughout his political career. I have no difficulty supporting this Bill, which is long overdue. I hope all Governments will learn from the mistakes made in Irish Shipping. These mistakes were worrying and, without being divisive, I want to refer to some of them in the context in which this Bill is framed. A number of Governments were involved, principally the Fine Gael-Labour Coalition Government, but other Governments dragged their feet in trying to solve this problem, that is until this Minister took office.

As the House will be aware, I tried to raise this issue on a number of occasions over the years but I was prevented from doing so by the fact that it was held to be sub judice. Concern was also expressed by members of Fianna Fáil; it was not entirely a matter of party politics. The Taoiseach, Deputy Reynolds, who was in Opposition in June 1985, said:

This act will never be forgiven by the generation of today or those who come after. The Government will be written into our history books as one which reneged on national responsibilities, gave this country a bad name abroad and above all took away pride in serving under our national flag.

At the end of the day the Government are prepared to let the workforce of Irish Shipping walk around this city begging for a living. Why should they [228] have to come to their Members of Parliament and go on their knees to beg for what is rightly theirs, having served this country in an emergency and built up a company which was the flagship of the semi-State sector? They did everything that was humanly possible but in return the Government say there are legal complications and financial sensitivities.

That was the situation in 1984-85 and in subsequent years. The Coalition Government of Fine Gael and Labour pleaded legal constraints for not honouring their obligations because they felt they would be writing a long term blank cheque — that was the exact phrase used — for other employees. They were prepared, perhaps under the instructions of the Department of Finance, to take this rather miserly and Scrooge like attitude towards the unfortunate former employees of Irish Shipping.

I recall as many other Members will the shameful sight of members of Irish Shipping in their uniforms parading up and down outside this building with placards and handing out leaflets. I have a leaflet here which I think was handed at the gates of this House in 1990. It is headed: “Irish Shipping Workers Request Dáil Éireann To Demand Report From Minister for the Marine”. The leaflet gives a little catalogue of events.

On 31 March 1987 the Minister told the House that he expected to be able to report to the House within a reasonable time. That is political jargon with which we are all familiar. I remember before I was elected getting Dr. Noel Browne to raise a question in the House on another matter. He was told by the then Minister for Justice that it was being considered. Some 14 years later it was still being considered and that, I assume, was regarded as a reasonable time. A phrase like “reasonable time” can be very flexible in political terminology.

The Minister told the House he hoped to report within a reasonable time on additional compensation for Irish Shipping workers and the establishment of a [229] national shipping company. On 24 November 1987 the Minister reassured the House that he would do his utmost to have this matter brought to a conclusion as quickly as possible. On 3 May 1988 the Minister informed the House that he expected to have an examination of the issues completed and conclusions brought to the Government for consideration shortly. On 30 May 1990 the House was still awaiting a report on those two issues from the Minister for the Marine. Over two years had elapsed since the Minister informed the House that the matter would be brought before the Government shortly. There certainly was foot dragging on all sides in this regrettable and unfortunate matter.

I do not wish to be divisive but there are certain things we need to learn. We need to be open, honest and clear in looking at the situation. The Minister referred to this but dealt with it in a way which, perhaps, was intended not to hurt sensibilities or because of the constraints of time when he said in a very general sense:

Shipping is a cyclical industry. For more than three decades however the company successfully steered a steady course through peaks and troughs. It experienced a downturn in trading in the late 1970s and early 1980s and found it could not meet the resultant financial commitments. The “big bang” followed with liquidation in 1984.

That is accurate and quite clear but it lacks detail which is important for this House to consider as background.

In a certain sense the Minister's statement is almost too bland because it just states a historical sequence and does not look at the reason for that historical sequence and it was by no means inevitable. I maintain that it was the responsibility of a succession of Governments which led to the collapse of Irish Shipping. I am sure the Minister and his advisers will wish to bear in mind the background so that any such happening can be avoided in the future. I have documentation which is germane to the issue.

[230] With regard to pensions the point is made in this document — which I have had for some years but this is the first opportunity I have had to place it on the record — that there was and is correspondence available to show that the Government considered the company to be a public sector employer and the Government made sure that the board and management adhered strictly to the terms of successive national wage agreements and so on. The Government also determined the size of the company's fleet of ships and when and where additional ships should be built. For example, M.V. Irish Spruce was built in Verolme Cork Dockyard and taken over by the company in August 1983, and thereby hangs another rather instructive tale.

The document continues:

The day to day operations of the company was not funded by the Government as is the case with Córas Tráchtála, the Industrial Development Authority and other similar State bodies. Apart from very infrequent injections of capital it was not subsidised by the State and had to compete in one of the few free markets of the world. The salary, pension, leave and other conditions of employment were influenced more by the private sector than the Civil Service.

That is an important point when judging the entitlement of former employees to full respect, both moral and to the letter of the law, for their pensions.

The document gives a summary of the difficult period. I listened with great interest, as I always do, to my colleague and friend Senator Fitzgerald because when he speaks on issues relating to the fishing industry or to shipping in general, he is always a mine of information. It was quite fascinating that he gave a broad history going right back to 1941. I want to look exclusively at the period from 1973 to the collapse of the company, although I honour the service done by Irish Shipping during the Emergency and the war years. I take that as read and I [231] do not want to waste the time of the House repeating it.

The problems really started because the operating policy of the company was radically altered early in 1973 when the company entered into a joint venture with a foreign shipping company, Sir William Reardon Smith & Son Limited of Cardiff. Details of the joint venture were first reported to shareholders in the company's annual report and statement of accounts for the year ended 31 March 1973.

There was an inquiry by an Oireachtas Joint Committee which believed at that point that the Minister ought to have sought details of the joint venture agreement to make sure it was in line with both Government policy and the law. Having regard to the fact that Irish Shipping was a wholly owned State company, it must be open to question if such a joint venture with a privately owned foreign company was authorised by the objects clause in the company's memorandum of association.

Chartering agreements were then entered into by this company. Irish Shipping and Sir William Reardon Smith & Son Limited were made jointly and severally responsible for these chartering agreements. In 1982 the partner company, Sir William Reardon Smith & Son Limited, got into financial difficulties and withdrew. Irish Shipping then became the principal and sole target of the equivalent of specific performance actions by the other financial parties to the agreement.

There was a shrinkage in the market which compounded problems but it became clear that the company was in severe financial difficulties. The precise details of these financial problems were reported to the Government by way of a board report in September 1982 but no action was taken for 13 months. The Government remained completely immobile until December 1983. That represents a lapse in terms of responsibility on the part of Government.

The nine chartering agreements which led to the collapse of Irish Shipping were [232] entered into by the management of the company without the approval of the board — that is absolutely astonishing and I have no reason to challenge it. Five of the agreements gave the company the option of acquiring 50 per cent of the share in the vessels concerned on the payment of additional hire. This option was exercised by the management.

I wish to say something about the management of the company. I am not speaking about individuals but about the whole question of management. The principal difficulty with the management was that it was largely a matter of political appointees. The people serving were not actually qualified. This was another break with tradition.

When Irish Shipping was established all the people appointed had had a direct professional long term acquaintance with the shipping industry. For example, in the early years of the company's existence people such as J.J. Stafford of the Wexford Steamship company, S.J.K. Roycroft of Limerick Steamship Company and others who had chartering experience, such as T.D. Hallinan of Cork Grain and Stephen McKenzie of McKenzie Coal Importers, were appointed to the board of management of the company.

During the 1970s and 1980s as Governments came and went, frequent changes were made to the personnel on the board without the slightest regard for their expertise. It was simply political gamesmanship. I want to place on the record the astonishing fact that at the time of liquidation not one member of the board had any shipping expertise. I find that astounding. It is not entirely surprising that a company under such direction entering into complicated long term leasing chartering arrangements came unstuck. Partly as a result of this political interference of the worst kind some extraordinary decisions were made. For example, it was decided by Irish Shipping to build the Irish Spruce in the Verolme dockyard in Cork. One can understand the motivation, the wish to give employment and so on, but it is surely unusual for a Government to direct a company of [233] this kind that a vessel must be built in a specific named dockyard, particularly when at that time it was widely known that the cost of building such a ship in the existing highly competitive situation would be more than twice the cost had it been built in Japan.

I understand the motivation, but in this difficult situation, when professional people who knew the shipping industry would have spotted the difficulties the company was in, it was inexcusable to force this further burden on the company. The vessel cost £26.5 million to build and there were further problems with it, because the specification of the vessel's hull and machinery was outdated, but it was the only type the Cork dockyard was capable of building at that time. The design of the ship meant that it could only load to two thirds capacity in American ports when it was used for one of its principal purposes which was bringing coal to Moneypoint. It was inevitably and continually a lossmaker both in capital terms and in terms of the finance generated by the exercise of its principal business operation.

There are a series of difficulties in the background of Irish Shipping from which we need to learn. We need to learn the dangers of political appointment, the dangers of appointing people who do not have expertise in a particular area. I know the Minister will agree with me that never again should we have a situation where Government appoints a board consisting entirely of people who have no expertise at all in the area in which the company is trading.

I wish to put on the record a list of eleven reasons given by Irish Shipping in claiming that the Government were negligent at that time. The Government was negligent in failing to appoint a sufficient number of people with shipping expertise to the board, in making too many changes in the personnel of the board between 1973 and 1981. It did not remove the board of directors and top management in September, 1982 when details of the company's financial problems were made known and replace them with people who would have had the [234] expertise to take immediate and effective action. The Government failed to take any action between September 1982 and December 1983 to deal with the problem of charters.

It failed to seek details of the joint venture with Reardon-Smith when details of the venture were revealed in the annual report for 1973 and also to monitor the operation of the joint venture. It failed to monitor properly the profitability or otherwise of the company's fleet and to regulate the limits set by the Government itself on the tonnage to be operated by the company. It failed to question and seek details of the company's chartering policy when the annual report of the company revealed for the first time in 1979 the extent of the company's chartering operation, particularly when the Government was aware from successive annual reports that the freight rates available on the international market were well below the levels required to enable the company break even on its shipping operations.

It failed to instruct the board to terminate the charter agreements where their existence became known to the Government because they were ultra vires the management, particularly the five charters which involved capital expenditure in acquiring a 50 per cent interest in the vessels concerned. It allowed a management team renegotiate the charter agreements in January 1984 and approved the terms negotiated, which included the purchase of two of the vessels at values very much in excess of their market value. I understand that the cost was £120 million to liquidate Irish Shipping, so it was a very foolish action financially by which we lost. It did not protect us at all.

It instructed the company to build the mv Irish Spruce without satisfying itself that such additional tonnage could be traded profitably, since the company itself had not approval to build another vessel and the building contract was designed to maintain employment levels in the yard in the short term. It failed to avail of a further reduction in charter hire offered by the owners of the chartered in [235] vessels after the appointment of a provisional liquidator, or failed to negotiate a buy-out of the seven remaining charters.

In other words, there was a period when a significant reduction could have been organised by a Government negotiating team, and this was clearly known. I do not wish to point blame and when I say “Government” I do not mean this Government. I wish that to be quite clear. I would be lacking in my duty to this House if I did not rehearse the sad history of events that led to this appalling situation in which decent and honourable people, personnel of Irish Shipping, were literally left walking the streets looking for their pensions.

For some of them it is too late. They will never get the entitlement which they had, but I commend this Minister on the humane arrangements he has made for their representatives to be compensated to some extent. The amounts are not enormous, they are of the order of £3.5 million. I am not a mathematician, arithmetic is my very worst subject, but I tried to divide 300 employees into £3.5 million. It averages out somewhere around £20,000 each, so I presume there is a sliding scale from £10,000 to £45,000 or £50,000.

They are not enormous rewards, but they are justly deserved and the Minister himself deserves great credit for his characteristic humanity in introducing this Bill to the House. Despite the somewhat negative and critical context in which I have placed the Bill, I have no difficulty whatever in commending it to the House and in saying that I welcome the fact that we have at last lived up to our obligations. I would have been failing in my duty to the House if I had not placed on the record what the problems were and suggested some careful method by which Governments in future can avoid the kind of dangers and foolish decisions that were so unfortunately and regrettably made in the case of Irish Shipping.

Mr. Magner: I should begin by thanking [236] that renowned institution, Trinity College, for dividing 300 into £3.5 million and getting the right answer. In 1984 I had a motion on the adjournment in relation to Irish Shipping and the Minister then was Deputy Jim Mitchell. The public gallery was packed to capacity with the staff of Irish Shipping, from the commodore of the fleet down to junior members of staff. They all wore the Irish Shipping uniform and they sat there and listened to the response made by a Government Minister, a Government of which I was part, and very little solace was given.

I never pass the monumnet on the quays in Dublin, with its big anchor, without feeling dishonourable in some way. I am sure it will happen again that backbenchers in Governments, whether they are Deputies or Senators, are brought in and somebody will lay out a terrible vista. They have been advised by Finance, they have been advised by the Attorney General's office, the best financial experts in the world, that unless a particular course of action is taken the assets of this State will be dissipated. Backbenchers are then asked to take a decision based on trust. I remember quite distinctly the feeling of the ordinary members of the parliamentary parties in that Government. In some way we felt we were being bounced into this because we did not understand why the Irish Government should be held responsible by Japanese or Korean bankers to unlimited damages. We simply had to accept what was put in front of us and we voted accordingly. It did not lessen the pain.

I note that the Minister, Deputy Andrews, referred to Minister Woods and Minister of State, Deputy Gerry O'Sullivan, and I join him in extending congratulations to both of them. I also enjoin the present Minister and his Department to that tribute, because there are people within that Department who also felt that this was a chapter in Irish history whose end had to be written with some sense of decency, that at some time some Government would have to address it. I am glad that I happen to be on the same side of the House I was in [237] 1984, but instead of doing the damage, we are at this stage rectifying it. I am glad to be part of that. Senator Howard said it in his earlier contribution: it was a bad day to be in Government.

Senator Fitzgerald gave us a fascinating trip down memory land which reminded me of one of the best books about Irish Shipping between 1939 and 1945, written by Robert Fisk, which details the events leading up to the establishment of Irish Shipping. The visionary involved was Seán Lemass, who was then Minister for Supplies. He went all over the world and bought vessels that nobody but a kamikaze pilot would go to sea in — rust buckets and wrecks. Some of them were inspected in half sunken form in all sorts of funny places. There were old Greek freighters, American First World War troop ships; anything that would float was what they bought and they mended them.

I will not go into the long history of what they shipped into this country, but if we had a fighting force between 1939 to 1945 it was the men of the merchant navy. Their record in terms of individual and corporate bravery is well documented. They were bombed, burned and drowned and also messed around in no uncertain fashion by our nearest neighbours, who sent them on long treks around the coast, the longest way home, in order to apply pressure on our Government to change its stance on neutrality. I accept that we did not have tankers and Britain, out of the generosity of its heart, supplied us with some petroleum spirits — although there was a great deal of self-interest involved.

I went to sea in 1957 in the British merchant navy and there was a standing instruction that whenever an Irish ship appeared on the horizon, they sent down for me — depending on who was looking for me they sent for the Catholic or the Irishman — to say that there was an Irish ship sailing by. I would come up on deck and look at the magnificently maintained ship; they were always sparkling clean, pristine. The colours were always bright and the Tricolour well painted, [238] and there was never any rust, which was amazing for what were essentially tramp ships. They were beautifully maintained. Anytime they were in harbour and I happened to be in harbour with the Esso tankers, I would board them with great joy. I was proud of them, and although I was sailing under the “Red Duster”, it was good to see the Tricolour flying fresh and clean in some of the queerest ports in the world.

It was a terrible fate for the company to be allowed to go under, figuratively speaking and in reality. It was not just the collapse of an ordinary factory. The employees were highly specialised. They were not fitters or engineers who get work ashore — a few of them could, some of the engineers and radio operators, for example. However, there is no work for skilled deckhands or riggers. Some people were skilled enough to take a 20,000 tonnes ship, leave the port of Cork or Dublin and steer it into Valparaiso almost on the hour, and they were discarded as if they were of no value. They paraded in protest, but all one could do was to keep the head down when one passed them because one could not look them in the eye.

I had personal connections with Irish Shipping. My brother was drowned at 23 years of age from an Irish Shipping vessel and my family and I had a great affinity for Irish Shipping. Although this Bill is being introduced, we should not expect the former employees to be grateful. They are barely getting justice — three weeks per year of service when the norm now is about six weeks. We set the norm way back and denied them what was rightfully theirs for almost ten years. So much so, that quite a number of them are now dead.

I pay tribute to the Department of the Marine, to the Ministers and the Government. It was a welcome gesture to allocate the money and it was an act of compassion and generosity to include the dependants of those who are no longer alive. There is always a tendency to deal with the living — they are alive and will get so much; but if one had passed away, that was that. I am glad in this case that [239] it is intended to compensate the relatives of those who have passed away.

The history Senator Norris gave us in relation to the commercial operations of the company was interesting as an historical review. Hindsight, as we know, is twenty twenty vision. I have no doubt that lessons were learned from the collapse. We have had problems with State companies — Aer Lingus, for example, and one coming up on the inside track at present is Irish Steel. There can be problems with State companies and it is not a question of just appointing people with no expertise in an area to the board of the company.

I have often looked at Senator Norris's bailiwick, the universities, and they seem to be terribly busy awarding each other degrees. At times it is best that an impartial, outside eye can be cast on these proceedings and I would suggest that we might have lay people on academic university boards. They might sometimes insist that they join the real world.

I join with my colleagues in welcoming the Government's bringing this Bill forward. I am glad for the survivors. I apologise to them for the ten year delay, and I hope that if there is any occasion in the future when a State company gets into such difficulty that we do not use the same remedy of which I was part in 1984.

Ms Honan: On behalf of the Progressive Democrats I welcome this Bill and pay tribute to the Minister for at last resolving the long running saga of the former employees of Irish Shipping. Since the demise of the company in 1984 — ten years ago now — more than 300 men and women, former employees of the company, have been ignored. We are at long last acknowledging the exceptional circumstances in which they found themselves at that time and seeing fit to compensate them. I am pleased that justice is at last being seen to be done because these are the people who suffered most during this unsavoury episode in Irish life.

As many Senators have said, we must learn from the lessons of Irish Shipping. [240] Irish Shipping was out of control and no adequate measures seemed to exist to track the course of its commercial decisions. It was a hard and painful lesson to learn and the episode damaged our national image and reflected badly on us because, as legislators, we must accept the responsibility that there was a lack of awareness through the State reporting structures. There were serious difficulties in the company which did not seem to come to light to the people who were in power. There has tended to be different approaches as between State companies and private enterprise. If Irish Shipping had been a private company the difficulties that existed there would have been addressed far earlier and it would never have been allowed to get to the state it did in 1984.

As Members of this House we have had to pass former employees of the company picketing outside and these men and women found themselves forced to take their case to the streets for the past ten years. They had given long years of service to Irish Shipping and they could not be seen as responsible for the ill advised commercial decisions which led to the demise of the company as they were only the workers. It has taken many years of a long and sustained lobbying campaign for the tide to turn in their favour and that is at last happening. The Bill makes provision for a lump sum to certain former employees of Irish Shipping Limited. It is calculated on the basis of an amount equal to three weeks pay per year of service up to the date of liquidation and is a maximum figure. May I ask the Minister why he has set this maximum figure per former employee?

I also welcome the arrangements which have been made to pay to the estates and families of former employees who are now deceased the amounts they would have been entitled to. It is important that all who are entitled to money under this provision be informed of that decision. In addition, I welcome the establishment of an interdepartmental committee by the Minister which will comprise officials from his Department, the Department of Finance, the Department of Enterprise [241] and Employment and the Revenue Commissioners. This will ensure the smooth administration of the scheme.

This Bill will finally bring to an end a sorry episode in our history. It is a lesson to us all how a disregard for proper accountability of taxpayers' money led, not only to the demise of Irish Shipping Limited, but also to much hurt and suffering for the innocent workers in this case.

I wish the former employees of Irish Shipping well and I am sure they are pleased that, at long last, their case has been met. I also commend the Minister for introducing at last this Bill to the House.

Mr. Mooney: I welcome enthusiastically the introduction of this Bill to the House and I hope it has a speedy passage so that the wrong which was inflicted on the unfortunate former employees of Irish Shipping Limited can be rectified. I also have a sense of anger regarding the long delay in introducing this Bill which has meant that people who went about their business in a legitimate and patriotic fashion have had to wait so long, and even still the final proposals leave a certain amount to be desired. I do not wish to sound churlish, however, and it will be to the eternal credit of the Minister, Deputy Andrews, that he was the Minister to process this legislation through both Houses of the Oireachtas.

I could not help but be moved by some of the contributions to the debate in the House today, especially that of my friend and colleague, Senator Magner, who has had personal tragedy as a result of his family's life long involvement with Irish Shipping Limited. Senator Fitzgerald and others outlined the context in which this piece of legislation is being introduced, so it is justifiable that one should feel somewhat emotional about what is admittedly little more than words on paper. However, behind those words on paper in this Bill lies a sorry, sad tale. It was salutary to note that Senator Magner spoke of it being a black day in the government of this country, acknowledged as such by Senator Howard, when [242] the process of liquidation of Irish Shipping Limited went through the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Considering the history of Irish Shipping Limited, especially during World War II, which was the company's finest hour, I recall that my late father purchased a series of books on the war at some country house auction. As a small boy I recall going through them in great detail because they were full of photographs of the conflict. Inevitably, being Irish, I wanted to delve into the books to find out what the Irish contribution was during World War II. I was aged nine or ten years and was not aware of the intricacies of foreign and diplomatic policy, Ireland's neutrality during the war and the politics surrounding it. The books, all six of them, told me a great deal which was a platform for further study regarding Ireland's position during the war and our neutrality.

The one photograph which stood out from the books was of one of the vessels of Irish Shipping Limited which had been attacked by German fighters or perhaps by a U boat. The photograph showed the ship in all its glory, and in this respect I recall Senator Magner referring to the pristine condition of Irish ships, together with the Irish Tricolour, and, placed across the side of the ship, the name Éire. This name was also placed on the top of ships as every effort had to be made to ensure that the ships were seen by belligerent nations to be neutral vessels.

This photograph, among all the photographs of the holocaust and of the awfulness of war, is the one that stayed with me. Fast forwarding to 1984, I was not a Member of this House but I remember, in much the same way people recall where they were on the day President Kennedy died, where I was the week that the demise of Irish Shipping Limited was announced. My brother, who was and still is resident in Marseilles in the south of France, phoned me to tell me that the Irish Spruce, one of the flagships in the fleet of Irish Shipping Limited, was tied up in Marseilles harbour and that the harbour master and his officials had gone on board and had tacked onto the flag [243] mast the order preventing the Irish Spruce from leaving the precincts of Marseilles port.

Despite protestations from Captain Greevy and his crew, they had to sit there, and sit they did for 18 months to two years while protracted negotiations ensued to release the three ships in the fleet of Irish Shipping Limited. Two of these were tied up, one at Marseilles, the other, I believe, at Mombassa and the third was on the high seas at the time the order was made to liquidate the company by the then Government.

The impact of that decision is still with us today and its ghosts continue to surround the House. There was shock felt by employees and their families at the arbitrary decision taken by the then Government. The question asked at the time was why the Government could not wait until either the ships were back at home or, in the case of the Irish Oak and the Irish Spruce, until they were out of harbour before the decision was communicated to the relevant port authorities.

Not only did the patriotic, diligent and committed employees of Irish Shipping Limited, who had flown the flag proudly across the world and who had the illustrious background of keeping this country fed during World War II, have to suffer the hardship, financial and otherwise, of the then Government's decision, but they had to suffer the further ignominy of being pirated, controlled, restricted and prevented from taking their ships out of the harbours in question. I blame the then Government for this and make no apologies for it because there could have been a better way of dealing with the matter.

I am not interested in mismanagement or bad management or what was going on at the board of Irish Shipping Limited, or the level of expertise, which Senator Norris so eloquently referred to, or the lack of it. What I would like to know — and I hope the truth will come out some day — is who made the decision at that time, where and with whom did the buck ultimately stop and does that person have [244] any idea of the impact which that decision had? I hope it will haunt them.

I visited Marseilles on many occasions and was on the Irish Oak many times. I saw at first hand many of the things which Senator Magner spoke of regarding the condition of the ship, the morale of the officers and crew, the family atmosphere in which they worked and the cruel twist of fate which found them in this far off shore wondering about their future, not knowing when they would return to their families and not knowing when this nightmare was going to end. In this respect I wish to pay a singular tribute to Captain Greevy, whom I knew, and to all the other captains and to the crew that was on the ship at Marseilles for the manner in which they held their dignity in the face of the most severe adversity.

What happened when they returned? What happened when the accountants, lawyers and legislators got together to break up Irish Shipping and cast it to the four winds? What happened to these fine people? They found themselves outside the gates of Leinster House. Having already had indignity heaped on them, they had the further indignity of having to demonstrate outside this House. Anybody who was here at the time will remember it well. I hope those who made the decision to liquidate the company, and who passed them when entering and leaving this building hung their heads in shame. I met those people. They were not ciphers, numbers or statistics but people with families, hopes, aspirations and ambitions, as we all have. All they wanted was a recognition of the contribution they made to this country. They were not looking for a great deal. They were looking for redundancy money, some acknowledgement in financial terms which would have helped the majority of their members who found themselves out of work. All this happened in 1986 or 1987 at the height of the recession when things were much worse than they are now.

The then Government and my own subsequent Government said no. I will never believe a Minister of any Government who stands up here or in public and [245] says something is impossible. The present Minister, Deputy Andrews, has done it. If he seems to have done the impossible, good luck to him. He has restored faith in the democratic system. The people who marched outside the gate were there because they believed in that system. It took ten years for this Bill to be introduced but they can now feel a certain amount of justification. I applaud the Government's decision. I do not wish to turn the screw on the then Fine Gael-Labour Coalition. All parties were culpable in that it has taken so long for this sad, sorry saga to reach its end. It has reached its end in financial terms but not in terms of the hardship it has caused to individuals and families.

Senator Honan questioned the ceiling provided for in the Bill. I, too, question it. I do not wish to sound churlish. I enthusiastically welcome and endorse this Bill, but who decided on the ceiling? Former employees have criticised this aspect of the Bill and said it is far from adequate. I am anxious to know if the ceiling of £50,000, which I hope the majority of people involved will receive, will remain intact. The Minister stated that the committee which is to be established will “bring together the relevant expertise in the areas of redundancy, tax and finance...” Will the £50,000 be diluted to the point where it bears no resemblance to £50,000? I know the Minister and the Government will argue this is the way things are but in this instance I ask that it not be so. If people are to get £50,000, they should be given the full amount with a heart and a half and the thanks of the country.

Some of the former employees were successful in finding alternative employment. Others who found employment subsequently found themselves back on the dole when a number of schemes, projects and employment opportunities in the shipping area, which were open to them in the wake of the liquidation, were terminated as a result of the competitiveness about which the Minister spoke. I hope I have expressed the strong feelings which were expressed to me on board that ship in Marseilles many years [246] ago and the equally strong feelings expressed to me outside the gate of Leinster House, when I felt helpless and, like many Members, unable to give an adequate response. It is a proud day for me as a Member of this House to welcome this Bill, which shows that the impossible is possible and that there will be at least some justice at the end of the day.

I ask the Minister to request the committee he is establishing to review Ireland's shipping policy to consider the impact on this country of the containers plying between Ireland and Britain and onwards to the Continent. In the last week I have become aware, as I am sure the officials have, of a concept known as piggy-backing, which will reduce considerably the cost factor for container business through Britain and on to Europe. It means containers will now be able to use the Channel Tunnel. Its cost was previously thought to be exorbitant but is now much less and it will be a relatively inexpensive and efficient way of shipping container traffic through the UK to Europe. It is vital for this country and its future that we take advantage of every and any innovation in relation to this tunnel. Perhaps the review committee could evaluate its impact on container traffic.

I heartily endorse the Bill.

Mr. Roche: I heartily, absolutely and without any reservation welcome the Bill and commend the Minister, Deputy Andrews, for bringing it before us. My reasons for welcoming it are deep and personal. My father was on board the Kerlogue when it was destroyed by British RAF fighters. The destruction of Irish Shipping in 1984 was an act of absolute infamy, unpardonable stupidity and vandalism against one of the finest State-sponsored bodies this State ever created. The ten long years the staff of Irish Shipping have had to wait for some measure of justice is unforgivable. The people who caused this destruction did not suffer any of the privations the workers in Irish Shipping and their families suffered. I commend the Minister and the Government [247] for, even at this late stage, restoring their dignity and hope.

My late father was a seaman with the Wexford Steamship Company. He served the nation, like so many young men, through dangerous times in the war years. In every sense he and his colleagues put their lives on the line day after day, in ships which today would not be licensed to go on the high seas, to bring supplies to this nation. Many of his colleagues and friends and many people from Wexford and around the coast paid the ultimate price in serving this nation by losing their lives. The ships were so rickety, old and derelict that we would not go to sea in them today. Yet, these brave, perhaps foolhardy, men crossed the Atlantic, went to the Mediterranean and North African coast and kept Ireland supplied with vital provisions.

My father's ship, the Kerlogue, was involved in one of the great rescues of the war. One of the proudest possessions I have is a decoration awarded to him and other members of the crew for rescuing German sailors in the Bay of Biscay in December 1943, when they hauled hundreds of young men from the water and carried them, under threat from the RAF and the Royal Navy, to safety in Cork. This ship was rewarded for its humanitarian efforts when, on its next voyage, it was blown out of the water by the RAF, in spite of the fact that the word “Éire” stood 12 feet high on the port and the starboard, the Tricolour was blazoned across the ship and it was lit from stem to stern. A Polish pilot, who apparently suffered from a mild form of colour blindness, thought that “Éire” was “Italy”, that this Italian ship was lit from top to bottom and that the Tricolour was the Italian flag.

After the war, these same brave people formed what became Irish Shipping. It was one of our great State sponsored bodies and one of the extraordinary contributors to the building of a nation. Now we discuss State sponsored bodies in terms of financial policy, in cold, accountants' terms as if they did not contribute anything other than pounds, shillings and [248] pence. However, they gave hope to this nation and helped to build it. These people were dedicated in a very real sense to Ireland. They were proud of the Irish flag and their shipping company.

Irish Shipping Limited is deeply ingrained in my family. My father, uncles and cousins all sailed on the ships of Irish Shipping Limited. Like Senator Mooney, I remember the day in 1984 when the news broke. My father was very ill at that time — we did not know it then but he was, in fact, terminally ill. I remember him saying with great bitterness how, in the name of God, could an Irish Government do this to its own people.

The decision was incomprehensible in its stupidity because Irish Shipping Limited was a fundamentally good company. It had contributed profits for many years and sailed in the black when big shipping lines were in the red. For the 15 years before 1984, the cargo rates went down every year, yet Irish Shipping Limited kept very much to the fore. It provided this nation with a corps of young men trained to the very highest standards of seamanship. It was the national training college for all the people who went to sea in those years after the war. Ships such as the M.V. Oak, the M.V. Spruce, the M. V. Elm and the M.V. Pine served this nation well.

The liquidation itself was carried out in a particularly hamfisted way. I cannot understand what happened and I could never comprehend the way it was done. It was astonishing that, as the previous speaker said, ships such as the M.V. Spruce were allowed to tie up in port and be impounded by a harbour master's summons tacked to the mast instead of being told to come back to the home port to protect the investment. As we all know, one of those ships, which was new at that time, was sold virtually for its scrap value a few years later. We, as a nation, would not even give the unfortunate men who had served with Irish Shipping Limited the dignity of coming back to the home port before we sacked them.

We should not need to be here passing this Bill today. We, collectively, on [249] behalf of the Irish people should be saying how deeply sorry we are for what we inflicted on those people. Senator Mooney made the valid point that for years we walked in and out of this building and saw those men and their families outside. It was a shame on all parties, none of us could take any pride in that. We have now, at this late stage, given them back a bit of their dignity.

I hope, like Senator Mooney, that the £50,000 ceiling will not be lowered because that is not a handsome payment. I say to the Minister of State, whom I welcome here, and to the Minister to think of the payments which some of the management staff in that company got just before its final demise and weigh them against the payments the workers will get now. There should be no question of this small compensation being taxed away.

My father has gone but, on behalf of all those people, I thank the Minister for what he has done here today. It comes ten years too late but better late than not at all. The fleet is lost, the skills are dispersed and the hopes have all gone. We should make certain here today that this can never happen again in companies that serve this nation. It was a day which will go down in the annals of history as one in which none of us will take any pride.

I have often said, and I do not say it with a sense of bitterness, that I hope the people who took the decision to destroy Irish Shipping Limited can live with themselves. Their jobs were secure and their families had what we would all want for our families. However, the last ten years have been ten years of misery for men and women who served this nation well and who deserved much more.

I commend this Bill and I am very proud to be here today. However, I am just a little sad that it has taken so long for justice to be done.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. O'Shea): I thank Senators for their contributions which, in keeping with my experience of this House, were thoughtful [250] and constructive. A question was asked in regard to the £50,000 ceiling. This was agreed with the representatives of the former employees at a political level. It affects only the senior management level of the company; I understand it involves about five people.

The Bill is a watershed in the process of recovery from the collapse of Irish Shipping Limited. For the former employees and their families it signals the end of a long, dark tunnel. I hope that the light it sheds will herald a new day for the former employees, the shipping industry and the community in general. We can now remember the past and respect those who served us well without looking over our shoulders. Instead we can turn our attention to making the best of the future.

Question put and agreed to.

Agreed to take remaining Stages today.