Dáil Éireann - Volume 296 - 09 February, 1977

Bula Limited (Acquisition of Shares) Bill, 1977: Committee Stage (Resumed).

SECTION 1.

Question again proposed: “That section 1 stand part of the Bill.”

Minister for Industry and Commerce (Mr. Keating): When we debated this section last night the Deputies opposite were asking about the financial plans for the development of the orebody. It was perfectly proper to ask if there were well drawn up and serious plans for that development. On the basis of the scrutiny of the experts available to me I can tell the House that this is the case and that the matter from our side has been properly and thoroughly investigated. I think that it is proper to ask if the question of the financial planning was discussed by the arbitrators and formed a part of the final arbitration and I will answer that question. Yes, it was taken into account in the valuation. It seems entirely improper for the House to ask for the details.

Last week and again this week we have discussed the extent of revelation and the extent of confidentiality and the need for a balance in our society between those two things. This particular instance, the financial plans of a mine, is a perfect illustration—I could not ask for a better one—of the need for confidentiality. This is the most public place in the land. I had affirmed last week that behind the Canadian company, the parent company of the Irish subsidiary, there were some of the most powerful mining houses in the world, though because of nominee shareholdings they were difficult to identify in all cases. It is a fact about which we could agree that there are intimate relationships between the great mining houses and the mining finance companies and I think we could agree that banking is a world-wide club. I think we could also agree that one of the most precious things that the private citizen, especially the businessman, possesses is his power to borrow and I am asked, in fact, to bare the jugular of Bula Limited.

I am asked to reveal details which could very obviously be the basis for the sort of pressure which would make that orebody difficult to finance. I am not saying that this would be the case because I have no way of knowing. Banking is a club and the result of this demand, were I to accede to it, would be to do damage to Irish businessmen of good standing who have contributed to this society and who have broken no law and to do damage to the value of the participation of the State in the development of this orebody. It would damage both in a very obvious way which nobody can contest. I could not pick a better example than this of the need for the preservation of confidentiality. The breaking of this confidentiality would be detrimental to the private individuals in the enterprise, to the enterprise itself and to State participation in it. Anybody who knows about financing will appreciate this. The plans were thoroughly prepared, investigated and examined by the arbitrators [1157] and I stand on the quality of those who studied them on my side and I stand on the quality of those who arbitrated on the final orebody of the mine. Here we have a very good example of how a company could be damaged by total revelation of confidential data.

Mr. Colley: It is reassuring, even to a limited extent, that the Minister now knows something about the plans for the development of this mine because quite clearly in his answers last night he did not know anything about them, and indeed, said so. He was not, of course, asked for detailed plans for the development of this mine. Assuming that the cost of getting the mine into production is £25 million, the figure the Minister gave, I asked him for a general outline of how it was proposed to finance this. The principal question I asked was whether it was intended that the State would have to invest more money in this connection and if so I asked the Minister if he could give an approximate idea of how much was involved. The Minister could not give any idea of that and of course it is ridiculous to suggest that to answer that question would put at risk the future borrowing prospects of Bula Limited. That is so totally removed from reality that it hardly needs further comment.

I was very interested to hear the Minister say that this was a good example of the need for confidentiality. If it is, it bears out precisely the point I made yesterday that there is a major distinction between the day-to-day operations of a company, on the one hand, and the arrangements made for initial investment, on the other. I asked the Minister previously, and without success, if he would indicate in what way the future of this company could be put at risk by disclosing the terms agreed on, not for the development of the mine, not for its future policy, but simply for investment in the share capital. I am assuming, of course, that the agreement referred to in this Act which the Minister is refusing to produce relates only to investment in the initial share capital and does not extend beyond that.

The Minister's reply was that he [1158] could not and would not give details in relation to this particular company and that he had to talk about categories of companies. Therefore, I am asking him now, if, in relation to any company of any category in which the State participates, he would indicate one way in which disclosure of the details of the State's investment in that company could be damaging to the company's prospects. I want to repeat that I am not talking about the operations of the company, merely of the initial investment.

Mr. Keating: It seems to me that that is the substance of the amendment which we debated and decided on last night.

Mr. Colley: Is that the Minister's answer to that question?

Mr. Keating: Yes.

Mr. Colley: I think I ought to draw the attention of the House and of anybody else who is interested to the fact that one of the major planks in the Minister's argument for non-disclosure of this agreement is now being totally withdrawn. His whole case was that he would not give information about this company. I have asked him to give any example he likes, in respect of any company or all companies in which the State participates, of how disclosure of details of the initial investment could damage that company, and the Minister has refused to reply. I hope the Minister will think better about his reply before we conclude on the section. Let him know that if he sticks to that position, he is selfconfessedly showing to this House that he has not a leg to stand on.

Mr. Keating: The Deputy may affirm anything he likes, but we discussed the matters of the availability of information, of the publication of the agreement, last night very lengthily. We are still on section 1——

Mr. Colley: Is the Minister saying it is out of order?

Mr. Keating: No, I am saying I decline, having had three-and-a-half hours on it yesterday, to go into detail on a section on which we have already [1159] voted. It is not for me to rule as to what is out of order or not out of order.

Mr. Colley: Does the Minister recall that he was asked by me yesterday on the discussion of the amendment how a company could be damaged by disclosure of the arrangements made for the initial investment and he did not reply to that question yesterday? He is asked today and his plea is that we have already discussed that matter.

Mr. B. Desmond: I am rather perturbed that the Opposition have proceeded to make a meal of an issue which one would have thought at this stage would be crystal clear to them and to the public at large. One can only infer from their sustained campaign to date in relation to this matter that their real purpose is to do everything possible to discredit the concept of State participation in a company of this nature. That has a great deal of foreboding for the prospect of Deputy Colley being Minister for Finance, as he would wish to be, in the event of his being successful in the next general election. As a trade union official of some years past, I can recall Avoca mines making representations to Deputy Colley, then Minister for Finance, for State aid, and many a time when, in Opposition, I looked for details in relation to a company of that nature, I was greeted with horror on the part of Deputy Colley at the very prospect of data being made available to this House in relation to, say, the Canadian directors of that company and the local management in respect of negotiations which took place very frequently at that time with the Department of Industry and Commerce.

I could draw innumerable analogies of that situation, and the only conclusion I can come to is a deliberate ideological decision by the Fianna Fáil Party to denigrate, to destroy, if at all possible, the concept of State participation in the future development of our natural resources. I asked here the last day—and I intervened only once previously in this debate—what was the real purpose of the Fianna Fáil intervention; whom they really represented? I have not the slightest doubt, [1160] having read the various statements made, particularly by the other companies directly involved in this, that there was a fronting operation going on.

An Ceann Comhairle: I want to dissuade the Deputy and any other Member of the House from engaging in what is tantamount to a Second Reading speech on this occasion. We are dealing with section 1 which concerns definitions. There has been very wide latitude in respect of this matter, but I cannot permit the equivalent of Second Reading speeches all over again.

Mr. B. Desmond: I could not agree with you more and, therefore, I shall be as brief as possible. However, we have this razzmatazz on the part of the Opposition, the republican party, whose heart is bleeding in this House for multinational mining companies, because the one thing that has stuck in the craw of those companies is the prospect of this State getting even a 2 per cent shareholding in such companies. This is their total opposition, and Fianna Fáil have fallen for it hook, line and sinker. I am not a bit surprised at Deputy O'Malley falling for it. While he is one of the most perceptive Members of this House, he acts like a bull in a china shop, demolishes all in front of him and then has to withdraw as gracefully as he can. Deputy Colley had, I thought, a little more experience and circumspection in that regard. Therefore, if the Opposition wish to prolong this relationship, one must ask them whom they are speaking for. As regards the agreement originally made between the principals of Tara as originally established and the multi-national corporation which eventually took over the total holding, is there the slightest suggestion on the part of the Opposition that that agreement should be disclosed to this House? Not at all, because that is private, and this one happens to concern State money. There is not a peep out of the Opposition that an agreement entered into with a private, multinational company, owning and controlling a wholly Irish subsidiary and totally dominating it here in terms of its attitude towards the State, should be disclosed.

[1161] Mr. O'Malley: They have been.

Mr. B. Desmond: Have they? That is very interesting.

Mr. O'Malley: A public company must publish all their agreements. They are even registered in the Registry of Deeds.

Mr. B. Desmond: Even with a 1956 version of a B.Comm. from UCC, I would not fall for that. However, solicitors should stick to their own field of activity and accountants to theirs.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Governey): The Deputy must confine himself to section 1.

Mr. B. Desmond: One might make a similar point in regard to the media's incursions into this observation.

Mr. Colley: How dare they.

Mr. B. Desmond: There has been an obsession of late on the part of the media——

Acting Chairman: I must remind the Deputy that this is not relevant to section 1.

Mr. B. Desmond: I submit that it is relevant.

Acting Chairman: The Chair says otherwise.

Mr. B. Desmond: In relation to section 1, I would make the point that the obsession of the media in relation to the affairs of Government vis-à-vis Bula has not extended in any way to the relationship between the Tara Company and some of their multi-national shareholders. Indeed, some of the phone calls that were made recently could be extended usefully in that direction also. What has happened is that some people on coming into the possession of documents that other newspapers have had for weeks have run riot and must find ways and means of leaking some rather faded documents that have been floating around this city for the past six months.

[1162] Mr. O'Malley: Since the documents were written only three months ago, it is difficult to understand how they can have been floating around for the past six months.

Mr. B. Desmond: I am sure that Deputy Colley will assume his republican royalty role as we go along.

Mr. Colley: If we leave aside the type of waffle and the flak that we have had from Deputy Desmond who is performing his normal and useful function for the Labour Party, what emerges is that the Deputy does not understand what has been said in this regard. But the Minister understands it so well that when put up against the wall, so to speak, he refuses to answer. I might very briefly explain the position for the benefit of Deputy Desmond.

This section contains a definition of the agreement. Later in the Bill there are references to acts that may be undertaken by the Minister subject to the agreement and this House is asked to approve of that situation. However, we do not know what is in the agreement. In case Deputy Desmond is not so aware, I would remind him that never before in the history of this State has a Minister brought in a Bill referring to an agreement but not producing that agreement.

Mr. B. Desmond: I had to wait six months before succeeding in screwing the Marathon agreement from Deputy Colley during his time in office.

Mr. Colley: No other Bill has ever been brought before the House seeking approval for an agreement that was not made known.

Mr. B. Desmond: The people opposite merely handed out money. They did not even bring the relevant legislation before the House.

Mr. Colley: The Minister has told us that one of the reasons for not disclosing the terms of the agreement is the consideration that to do so would be damaging to the affairs of the company concerned. I have no wish to be unfair to the Minister. He has said he cannot reply in respect to this particular [1163] company but that he can reply only in respect of companies as a category. He has said that if he were to give a reply in regard to particular categories, he would breach the whole tradition of confidentiality which would mean that business could not deal with the Government in future.

We have pointed out that there is an enormous distinction between, first, disclosing the affairs of a business in relation to its day to day affairs and, secondly, disclosing the arrangements made already for the initial investment by the State in that company. In respect of any category or of any company of any kind in which the State has participated or might participate, I have asked the Minister to give one concrete example to illustrate in what way the disclosure of the arrangements made for the initial investment could damage the affairs of the company. In giving an example the Minister need not mention any company. He may mention a category of companies. That very reasonable question was met with the reply from the Minister that the matter had been dealt with already on the amendment. The Minister did not deal with the question on the amendment although he was asked to do so. The Minister's stance goes to the whole root of the Bill and to the root of parliamentary democracy. If he persists in refusing to give even one example of how disclosure of the information would damage the company, the significance of his refusal cannot be lost on anybody who pays any attention to the whole matter.

Mr. Halligan: Perhaps I shall be permitted to follow the very wide path that Deputy Colley has beaten in relation to the rather narrow confines of section 1.

Mr. Colley: It is a very narrow path that I have trodden.

Mr. Halligan: Associated with the point made by the Opposition in regard to the disclosure of the terms of the agreement is a share of innuendo as to the reasons for this stance on the part of the Minister. Surely the innuendo [1164] cuts both ways. For that reason I do not wish to travel on that particular road, at least not yet, but I would remind the House that in matters of this kind, non-disclosure on the part of the State in relation to its commercial dealings with companies of the type we are talking of, indicates a strength rather than a weakness. It might act to the advantage of the State's development of our natural resources that there would be a very broad area of confidentiality because the State is in the business of being a competitor. It must go out and seek various partners.

Mr. Colley: Perhaps I might interrupt the Deputy for a moment. As he appears to be serious in relation to this matter, can he distinguish for us between the disclosure of a company in relation to its day-to-day workings and disclosure in relation to the initial investment?

Mr. B. Desmond: A brilliant observation.

Mr. Halligan: I shall come to that. We are in the business already, in relation to the development of our natural resources, of shopping around between many multi-national companies. Consequently, there is the necessity for getting the best bargain possible. Deputies opposite must know that if we were to disclose our hand fully in regard to every agreement, we would be weakening our bargaining position. The great strength of the State in this sphere is that the companies concerned do not know what their competitors are giving. In dealing with a cartel, for example, where supposedly a product is sold at a fixed price, members of the cartel make secret deals with a company. I should hope that nobody would put a semi-State body here into the position of having to disclose such details.

For that reason the principle of disclosure, as has been raised by Deputy Colley and others, is very important. Since they have attacked the principle I would like to defend it from the point of view of development of our resources. I regard it as being an essential weapon if we are to deal with these [1165] companies who are tough and ruthless and will exact from the State the maximum they can. They seek maximum disclosure of information so as to weaken the State. Deputy Colley made an important contribution in relation to the establishment of an Oireachtas committee on semi-State bodies. The legislation dealing with semi-State bodies contains a provision whereby at the request of one of these companies information is made confidential only to the members of that committee.

Mr. Colley: That is true, on its ordinary working.

Mr. B. Desmond: On all its agreements as well. It applies to An Bord Gáis as well as to everybody else. Do not try to be clever.

Mr. Halligan: I made the point that we had to seek a balance between confidentiality and the principle of public disclosure. I had the advantage of having worked for a semi-State body and I have been involved at a level of management where I was privy to exchange of information between the company, its board of directors and the Minister. This information was never put before the House. Deputy Colley and Deputy de Valera made the point that it may be that this committee even with its wide powers would not be able to get access to information which flows between the offices of the Minister and the chairman of the board of directors, and the general manager, of the company. We accepted the principle there in the formation of an Oireachtas committee dealing with semi-State bodies. Shall that principle not apply to this deal where the Minister is investing the State's money? A semi-State company which is voted taxpayers' money by this House could make a similar deal and would not have to come before this House with any element of disclosure such as is now being sought. I believe Deputy Colley will be a member of this committee, and if this company was to come before the committee and request that there be no public disclosure of information, that information shall not be published. The committee does not have any discretion.

[1166] Mr. Colley: We sought to give it discretion.

Mr. Halligan: The terms of the resolution were agreed in the end.

Mr. Colley: We sought to amend it.

Mr. B. Desmond: Not on that issue.

Mr. Colley: On that issue specifically.

Mr. Halligan: As far as I am aware we did not divide on the issue.

Mr. Colley: I cannot say for certain but I know we had an amendment specifically on that point.

Mr. Halligan: I know that and I was very sympathetic towards the point made. In the end I came to the view that, perhaps, the balance of advantage lay in the company having the right to demand that its information remain privileged because otherwise it might be that we would not get the information. I have been in the business of writing reports and presenting information. We all know that there are very many ways of presenting information. It can be cloaked very easily on occasion. I draw the attention of the House to the distinction which is being made in relation to a disclosure in respect of this agreement and disclosure in respect of a similar agreement which could be made between a semi-State body and Bula Limited or anybody else.

Mr. Colley: No, that is capital investment by the State.

Mr. Halligan: That is the legitimate inference that can be drawn from the Fianna Fáil position here. On section 1 Deputy Colley addressed a question to the House as to whether we could identify any examples whereby disclosure of equity participation would be damaging. From my experience I could give an example but I am not going to divulge that now.

Mr. B. Desmond: The post office is one example. The ESB is another.

Mr. Colley: What is the Deputy talking about?

[1167] Acting Chairman: Deputy Halligan without interruption, please.

Mr. B. Desmond: No wonder the files are piled high over in the Department of Finance. No decisions were ever taken.

Mr. Colley: Is the Deputy with us at all?

Mr. Halligan: Without disclosing confidential information, I will give the Deputy one example. I worked in a project where a semi-State body was attempting to set up a joint venture with an American multi-national company. State money voted by this House was to be invested in the new company. Disclosure of the information relating to the provisions of equity participation by that company in the new joint company would have been damaging to the operation of the venture. It is ludicrous to pretend that there is a distinction between an agreement regarding equity participation and disclosure of information about day to day operations. Perhaps it is the argument put forward by counsel speaking for some other interest who wishes to elicit information which should not be put before this House.

This State has through its various agencies put money by agreement into companies and those agreements have not been brought before this House and have not been sought. I direct the memories of Deputies opposite to the Potez affair in the early 1960s. A fine factory was built for a French company on the Naas Road to produce aeroplanes. The IDA and An Taisce lost £1½ million of public funds on that venture and were we to gross that amount up in today's terms it would be considerable. It is important to note that the agreement in relation to this large project which consumed such amounts of public money was never published and the equity participation was in the region of £1 million to purchase shares. I agree with Deputy O'Malley's Second Reading speech in relation to the risks associated with equity ventures being true. The Minister is not being selective in relation to Bula Limited. The Minister should not be persuaded to disclose more information than he thinks fit.

[1168] Deputy Lalor said that we are setting a precedent for the development of our natural resources and the State's participation in that development and I agree with him in that. Let us not be so naive as to underestimate the forces with which we will have to unite on occasion. Let us not be so naive as to throw away the weapon of commercial confidentiality. In the last analysis this House must have sufficient trust in any Minister of State and in any Government so that if information is not forthcoming, it is accepted that it is not for any private reason associated with personal or party advantage, but it is simply in the public interest. I would not refuse to extend that trust to members opposite if they were in Government and I expect them to do the same here. The amount of innuendo that is being passed around here is damaging all of us.

Yesterday it was asked what was being hidden, what was the Minister hiding? My answer to that is “Nothing except that which is in the public interest”. There is nothing in the Minister's personal interest that is being hidden and the amount of innuendo which suggests that there might is disgraceful. It should not be allowed to pollute the debate because that is what is happening.

This debate should be about the important question of the development of our resources. There is a clear philosophical distinction about how the two sides view this. Well and good. Let us have the debate on that but let us not drag down the debate to the level of personal innuendo. Mind you, we are all tempted to follow that and I am as open to that temptation as the next person. Perhaps I will succumb to it and doubtless I shall feel sorry afterwards. The issue is too important for us to fall to that level. The issue is whether we want State equity participation or not and, if we do, what are the conditions under which we give assent to it here. The issue is what are the limitations on the amount of information we in this House accept as being realistic in proportion to the commercial risk.

As the Minister said yesterday, [1169] there is a fine distinction to be drawn in the balance of advantage but I would say that the development of our resources will take such a period of time that it can be legitimate to expect that that side of the House will be over here during that period. That is the way democracy works. When they are I hope we will extend to them the same trust that we now ask them to extend to us. In the last analysis there is only one motivation in this case which is the public interest. There is no other motivation.

Mr. Colley: I do not want to prolong this debate unduly but there are one or two points I wish to make. For a fair proportion of Deputy Halligan's contribution the thought was in my mind that I would speak when he finished and that the first thing I would say was congratulations to him. I do say it but with less enthusiasm than I was inclined to say at first. I say congratulations because he attempted to deal with the problem in a way that the Minister has not attempted. The Minister has run away from it. I congratulate Deputy Halligan on the fact that he has at least put forward the argument that here we are dealing with a new situation, the development of our national resources. The Minister has tried to pretend he is doing exactly everything that was done in the past and is sticking to that but he is not. At least Deputy Halligan is putting forward a logical reason when he makes that argument although it does not stand up to examination.

My less than enthusiastic response to Deputy Halligan is because earlier he said he was going to deal with the point I had been making, namely, the distinction on the one hand between the initial investment and, on the other hand, the day-to-day working of the company. When it came to the crunch he dealt with it by saying that there was no distinction. With all due respects to him, that is not dealing with the situation.

I am assuming all the time that the agreement referred to in section 1 relates only to the State's initial investment in the company. If it relates to other things— we have no way of knowing unless the Minister tells us— [1170] that raises another issue. We have not been told anything about this except such as would suggest that this agreement relates only to the State's initial investment. Clearly the Minister does not or cannot tell me but perhaps Deputy Halligan can answer my question which is, in what way can the disclosure of the terms, fixed and agreed and already in existence, for the State's initial investment damage the company? In what way could similar disclosures in respect of any other company cause damage?

Mr. B. Desmond: If the Deputy cannot answer that he will never be a businessman.

Mr. Colley: I have asked the Minister to answer it and he cannot and neither can Deputy Halligan. Deputy Desmond did not even attempt to do so and it must not be as simple a matter as it seems to him. It is not a matter of its being a difficult question. It is a question of political will. It is a question of what is at stake here. We do not know because the Minister does not tell us what is in the agreement.

On the assumption that it relates solely to the terms of the State's investment, I ask any Deputy, any reasonable person, to give an example of what way the disclosure of the terms of the State's initial investment could be damaging. It is a simple straightforward question and it goes to the root of this section and of the Bill. It goes even further but yet we have not been able to get an answer. It is no good trying to muddy the water by talking about the necessity for confidentiality in regard to the ongoing work of the company and the possibility that its commercial rivals might get advantage by knowing about it. That is common ground and it has always been so. However, it is not what we are talking about here. We are talking about the disclosure of the terms of the State's initial investment. In what way can that damage this or any other company?

Mr. B. Desmond: If the Deputy cannot answer that he will have to be sent to the IMI. Let Frank Dunlop book him a course in the IMI.

[1171] Mr. Colley: That is very smart but it does not answer the question. Perhaps Deputy Esmonde can answer it.

Mr. Keating: On a point of order, we are on section 1 which deals with definitions. Yesterday we discussed the question of confidentiality and the question of publication of the agreement at very great length and we voted on it. It seems to me we are having that discussion all over again. This Bill has already received a large amount of time and discussion on Second Stage.

Mr. Colley: On a point of order in furtherance of the point of order made by the Minister, may I point out to the occupant of the Chair that prior to this the Ceann Comhairle was in the Chair and the Minister made the point he has just made now in a slightly different fashion. I asked him if he was suggesting that it was out of order on the section to have this discussion and he said he was not so suggesting. It seems to me that his suggestion now is reversing what he said.

Mr. Keating: The official record will bear out what I said. I did not offer a judgment as to whether or not it was out of order. I said it was for the Ceann Comhairle to do so.

Mr. Colley: I asked the Minister if he is suggesting it was and he said he was not so suggesting. The official record will show what was said.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Healy): I am informed that the Chair has endeavoured all the time to keep the debate to section 1. The Chair will continue to do that, to contain the debate as much as possible. I would ask the Deputies on both sides to remember that.

Mr. Esmonde: It appears that one matter has been lost sight of in the debate, namely, the purchase of shares in a private company. As I read the case made by the Opposition, the hypothetical questions put amount to a request for a prospectus as one would have on an issue of shares in a public company. It may be difficult for certain public representatives, full [1172] of bloom of acting for the public, to have to accept the fact that there is a very big distinction between the operation of a private and a public company.

It is also well to bear in mind that when a person buys shares in a private company he does not buy them on the blind, so to speak, as a result of public blurbs or comment in the financial columns of newspapers or stockbrokers' handouts. He does it as a result of his own private investigation on expert advice. That has been done in this case. It may be hard for Members to stomach this and to stomach the fact that, when one is dealing with private companies, one is dealing with a big emphasis on the word “private”. If we were to ask for the disclosure of the terms of the agreement a simple corollary to that would be to ask for the terms of the advice and we would be running completely contrary to the legal and commercial principles involved in a private company. It is difficult naturally for people who represent the public to accept that fact. They would like to be able to turn around and say the facts are such and such.

This is a novel venture by the State and we must look at it in the light and from the point of view of the Minister acting on behalf of the State putting himself in the position of a shareholder in a private company. Bearing in mind what I have said that is the position in which he is putting himself. Deputy Colley sought to make a distinction between initial investment details and day-to-day working. I do not know whether Deputy Colley is aware of what the circumstances are like in relation to mining enterprises. Without being too caustic, cynical, critical or sarcastic, I would suggest to him that one is dealing with a completely different set-up when one is dealing with mining companies and secrecy in relation to such companies is an absolute must because eventually one will be dealing on the international market with the produce, the rate at which it is produced, the percentage of deposit, the finance involved at any stage and, above all, the time factor. These are [1173] just a few small facets that have to be weighed in consideration of a mining enterprise and the disclosure of even one small facet of these things could be highly damaging to a mining enterprise. It might have the effect of literally putting the mine into liquidation or into cold storage for years.

Those of us who can read know that when we open the mining page of a financial paper we see there surmises in relation to mining shares. There has to be a cloak of secrecy if a mining concern is to be successful. I am not talking about the effect disclosure might have in relation to obtaining further working finance or the terms of that finance. This will be an ongoing commercial enterprise. If public money is invested in it is it not in the interests of the public that we give that company, particularly our shareholding in it, maximum advantage? It is all very well for Deputy O'Malley to give us a litany of ifs and cute, clever questions. They are exactly the questions a client asks his legal adviser or his financial adviser when making an investment. Is it to be assumed that, because these questions were asked and because they are given great mileage by certain scribes, Deputy O'Malley is making a great case for the Opposition and that the Minister is on a beating to nothing? Let us have a little common sense. Let us live in the world in which we are and let us realise we are dealing with a very vital commercial enterprise.

We are not here to pander to the curiosity of commentators. We, on this side, are concerned with ensuring this will be an ongoing, viable enterprise. It is vitally important from the point of view of the State and from the point of view of the citizen that we should have a stake in the resources of the State and not just be a little officer on the tilley going out of the mine taking our pence here and there. It is time we got involved as a State. Questions such as were asked yesterday by Deputy O'Malley are questions Deputy O'Malley or I would ask if we were advising a client. Deputy O'Malley is assuming the Minister has not had advice and has not got experts. If the Minister says he has taken the [1174] best advice available to him, are we not right in accepting that?

Mr. O'Malley: He did not accept it. He totally disregarded it.

Mr. Esmonde: The Deputy is speaking like an Annie Oakley on the basis that, if he were there, he would have done better. That is what the Deputy's case amounts to.

Mr. O'Malley: I certainly would never put myself in a minority position in a private company and hand out £9 million tax free to four individuals and have them laughing at me and at the State.

Mr. Esmonde: The Deputy is in a minority position in this House at the moment. I referred to facts that would be sought by a lawyer. The Minister has gone into these facts and told the House he has done so. He had a contract that was put to arbitration at which worldwide expert opinions were given and the arbitrators came down with a finding which bound the Minister under the arbitration. I cannot see what question mark there can be over that. There might be question marks had there not been an arbitration. Did that not happen before where there was no arbitration clause where a Government did deals?

Mr. Barrett: The last speaker has asked us to apply common sense to this debate. Certainly, we have been applying common sense. The fact remains the Minister has brought in a Bill here and failed to produce an agreement. We are not here to pander to commentators. We are here to protect the rights of the people who sent us here. That is common sense. This is a private company and this private company will in due course have its annual general meeting and at that meeting any shareholder, if dissatisfied, will have the right to ask for an agreement, if an agreement has been entered into. If the board of directors fail to produce that agreement, the shareholder then has the right to go to the courts and the courts will make an order directing the board to produce the agreement. That situation can arise in this particular case. A shareholder will be able to take action [1175] and the agreement we have been debating here for two days or more will find its way before the courts for the benefit of that shareholder. Here we are acting on behalf of 3.1 million shareholders and this House cannot have access to that agreement.

Mr. Lalor: Deputy Esmonde is a man I have a degree of regard for. I look upon him as an honest Deputy and I fully accept that what he said by way of contribution a few moments ago was given to us in all sincerity and that he meant every word. He opened by saying that we have here a totally private company and it was most improper of us on this side of the House to be demanding information with regard to the internal dealings of a private company and that we were linking up with the media in bringing in this ministerial bashing. I presume that is the situation as Deputy Esmonde sees it, but surely it is our responsibility as the representative of, by 1973 figures, little less than 50 per cent of the public. I believe, as the representative of the majority of the public at present, that if the State invest £9.54 million of public money, taxpayers' money, the money which is the property of the people, that it is very wrong for Deputy Esmonde or the Minister or his backup Deputies Desmond and Halligan to castigate the Opposition on our insistence that £9.54 million of public moneys be properly protected at least.

What got me to my feet was this allegation of the media bashing the poor, unfortunate Minister caught with the child in his arms. What was that in comparison with the bashing that I got in 1972 and early 1973 in relation to this? At present the State is proposing to invest £9.54 million in this project but four years ago at this time the State had under Lalor, Minister for Industry and Commerce, sold down the river; it was all gone, there would not be any possibility four years later of getting this sort of money for it, it was all evaporated. The three principal subscribers here today, the Minister backed by Deputies Desmond and Halligan, were standing on the [1176] same platform with the Neligans and the Merrigans who were making this claim. They are still standing on the same platform and we have to listen to the allegation that we are crying crocodile tears for £9.54 million of taxpayers' money.

This debate went on yesterday morning. Talking about the agreement, I referred yesterday evening to the fact that it was clear from the interest being taken on the Government side of the House that there was the feeling of sympathy for the Minister and he played up to it with his speech about a beating to nothing. The Deputy who stayed longest in the House was his colleague, the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, and I became convinced that that colleague was affected by the argument yesterday despite the fact that he made no contribution. At lunchtime today I found that he had arranged with RTE to put the director general of Bula, Mr. Wymes, into the programme to protect the Minister by saying: “We will call foul if the Minister proposes to disclose the terms of the agreement”. The Minister directed attention a few minutes ago to the fact that we were over-flogging the definition section of the Bill. I agree that section 1, the definition section, has been discussed far more than normally but it is the first time ever in a definition section we had a description where the description is not amplified. Here we have just three definitions:

“the Company” means Bula Limited;

“the Minister” means the Minister for Industry and Commerce.

“agreement” is defined as meaning:

...the agreement dated the 12th day of December, 1975, and made between Bula Holdings, Patrick Wright, certain other parties named in the Agreement and the Minister;

This is one of the very significant omissions from the Bill. Perhaps it should be included in section 2 but I mention it here because the omission strikes me as being remarkable.

The Minister in his opening remarks in what I presume to be the [1177] explanation of the agreement, through not stated, says: “...we have also secured 25 per cent of the equity for nothing and 24 per cent on a valuation, giving us in all a 75 per cent share of the profits”. We are conducting our debate here on the assumption, although we have never seen anything positive in writing, that the State—because we get mixed up with Ministers later on—is, arising from this agreement, going to have a 49 per cent share in this company. There is nothing in the Bill which says this. We of necessity have to take what the Minister says in good faith and I do not question that aspect of it. Deputy O'Malley yesterday made reference to the fact that the Minister had of necessity to tell us something about what was in the agreement and I presume that this 49 per cent is built into it.

We heard the Government side media bashing today. I am usually an expert on that. While on the subject of the media, I thought it extremely significant that the Minister's directorgeneral in relation to this business is booked specially on radio today to announce that it would be a breach of confidence for the Minister to disclose this. He was asked if he thought that was fair to the Irish people whose £9½ million was being invested and his reply was that that was a matter for the Dáil. I agree that it is and this is why we are making the battle in relation to this today.

Deputy Halligan seemed to go much further in an effort to justify this. To use the cliché and put it on the record of the House, it was interesting to hear Deputy Halligan say that non-disclosure is a strength rather than a weakness. He is a new recruit, of course, to the open Government party. He had a lot to do with getting them elected four years ago. We heard the former secretary of the Labour Party saying that proudly. I agree with him. I am not saying he was wrong. He said they are shopping around with multi-national companies. I wonder what his two colleagues who are not in the House yet have to say about that.

Mr. Esmonde: Does the Deputy agree with him?

[1178] Mr. Lalor: Yes. The Minister said yesterday we must change and we must do something else. I have lost the quotation. I think the word was devolved. It is very difficult to have to sit here——

Mr. E. Collins: It surely is.

Mr. Lalor: ——and be refused information on what is actually happening. Yesterday the Minister gave us to understand that no financial arrangements had been made in connection with the development of this business. Today he came in to straighten that out. He said it was improper for the House to ask for details of the financial arrangements for the working of this business. I accept that. As Deputy Colley said, that is not what we want. I would draw the attention of Government backbenchers to the fact that they are subscribing to this without it being written into the Bill that we will get 49 per cent. I take the Minister's word for it, but in Parliament we should not be expected to do so. Deputy Halligan said future legislation may involve this sort of thing when the Labour Party have finished shopping around with the multi-nationals. When the State is participating and taking equity in companies such as this, the Bill should spell out the value of the shares. This Bill does not do that. For a man like Deputy Desmond to have spoken three times already on this Bill——

Mr. B. Desmond: Twice.

Mr. Lalor: ——without bringing in worker participation is a bit of a slip up.

Mr. B. Desmond: The Deputy is trying to kill State participation.

Mr. E. Collins: Listening to Fianna Fáil wailing about this Bill one would think that when in office they had done great work with regard to our mineral rights and mineral resources. The fact is that they did sweet damn all to protect the rights of the people to have their resources properly developed. I was not a Member of the House at the time of the Marathon agreement, which was of great significance, when there was a [1179] gentle signing away of the right to search and drill for oil around our coasts.

Mr. Briscoe: The Deputy does not know the difference between a prospecting licence and other licences. He should get somebody to teach him.

Mr. E. Collins: I will leave the finer points to the Minister who is far better informed than I am. I am merely discussing the principle of that agreement where the State took no equity and no measures to ensure that the revenue accruing from that exploration and from subsequent findings of oil, if any, would go to the State for the benefit of the Irish people. The price charged for the right to explore for oil was marvellous. I am not sure whether the magnificent figure involved was £500 or something tremendous like that. I have not seen the agreement.

Mr. O'Malley: The Deputy should read that agreement some time. I brought it up from the Library a couple of years ago and read some of it to Deputy Desmond and I quietened him about it. The Deputy should read what the Leaders of the Fine Gael and Labour Parties had to say about it.

Mr. E. Collins: I do not recall the debate in the House on it.

Mr. B. Desmond: Deputy O'Malley tends to forget I had it placed in the Library in the first instance.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Healy): Order. Deputy Collins without interruption.

Mr. E. Collins: I believe this agreement should not be discussed. Supposing other types of minerals are found in other parts of Ireland, as naturally we all hope they will, if the agreement were made public the details would be available to other commercial interests. Apart from the political aspect, commercially it would be most unwise to have an agreement of the type we are discussing today bandied around in public. It could jeopardise any future agreement. This could be extended to any future developments on the oil [1180] scene and to any future mineral finds. If this agreement were published, it would be available to very wellinformed international conglomerates and multi-nationals. This could jeopardise a Government decision in the future in dealing with multi-national companies in relation to exploration of our mineral wealth. On that basis it would be very unwise. The general tenets of the agreement have been revealed by the Minister.

Mr. G. Fitzgerald: Where?

Mr. O'Malley: Where have they been revealed?

Mr. E. Collins: He has told the House of the capital commitment of the Government.

Mr. O'Malley: He has not. That is what we are asking him about.

Mr. E. Collins: He has told the House of the equity participation of the Government. Far more important, he has established a responsible and serious attitude to the State's participation.

Mr. G. Fitzgerald: That is speculation. It has still to be proven.

Mr. E. Collins: That is the difference between the attitude of this Government and the attitude of the Opposition who, in Government, had not the confidence in the nation's resources to suggest they should take an equity participation in our wealth. They did not have the confidence; they did not have the brains. They are now crying crocodile tears because this Government are taking an equity in our mineral wealth. We have taken the right decision in relation to this agreement. We have taken a 49 per cent equity and we will get 75 per cent of the profits.

Mr. G. Fitzgerald: How does the Deputy know? Has he seen the agreement?

Acting Chairman: Order.

Mr. E. Collins: If the Deputy wishes to challenge the Minister's integrity, I am sure the House would be satisfied [1181] to hear him and, if he wishes to go further, I am sure the Committee on Procedure and Privileges will be delighted to give him as good a hearing——

Mr. O'Malley: Star chamber treatment.

Mr. E. Collins: ——as Deputy Crinion and Deputy Molloy got. Deputies know well the outcome of that little episode.

Mr. O'Malley: If we do not stop criticising this Bill we will all be up before the star chamber. We had better be careful.

Mr. E. Collins: When the Deputy mentions the star chamber I suppose he is referring in passing to the Committee of Public Accounts inquiry into the £100,000. I must say they christened that one. If the Opposition wish to refer to that committee, their party will not come out of it too well.

Mr. Colley: They were referring to section 1.

Mr. E. Collins: I want to refer to the agreement. There are two basic principles involved under this section and one is that the Government are right to retain confidentiality in regard to the commercial agreement they are entering into in relation to mineral wealth development. Such information should not be available to people in this industry or to people who might be developing any future mineral wealth found. Secondly, this agreement is an innovation. It is a sign that the Government are confident in themselves and in our mineral resources and are prepared to put the people's money into a wise investment. I do not think Fianna Fáil have anything to gain out of their present politicking in this whole matter.

Mr. O'Malley: This debate began about 6.30 p.m. last evening and we had about a half-hour discussion on the definitions here. We discussed capitalisation and I asked a number of questions. We did not have the advantage then of all the crown princes, the would-be parliamentary secretaries, four or five of whom trotted out this evening.

(Interruptions.)

[1182] Mr. G. Fitzgerald: Some from Finglas and some from Ballyfermot. How could one believe those fellows?

Mr. O'Malley: We had to do without the benefit of their wit and their wisdom. The debate was conducted between the Minister on one side and Deputy Colley and myself on the other. In the course of the debate I asked the Minister a number of brief questions which he tried to answer as far as he could. We came to a point when we were discussing capitalisation of the company where the Minister said he did not know in reply to a number of questions I asked, adding: “I have no brief on that”. He had four officials with him but one assumes they did not know either or had not the information with them because they did not offer it to the Minister. The debate was adjourned at 7 o'clock and I had expected and hoped that when we resumed on the definition section at 3.30 p.m. this afternoon the Minister would have said that Deputy O'Malley had asked a number of questions last night which the Minister endeavoured to answer but did not have sufficient information but had since looked it up and the following are the answers. The Minister stood up all right and said he had made inquiries in the Department and found there were answers to these questions but he was not going to give them.

The two questions were: what were the arrangements about a rights issue and what was the Minister's position in regard to a rights issue? These are relevant matters which we sought to have clarified last night. It seemed to me that if the Minister had to take up 49 per cent of a rights issue he would have to take up, on figures I worked out last night and to which the Minister did not demur, about £2 million in rights. That is not allowed for in this Bill and a further Bill would therefore have to be introduced to enable rights to be taken up.

I inquired about the guarantee situation where the Minister as principal individual shareholder in the company would certainly be the most attractive guarantor from the point of view of the bank. I was told that he [1183] did not know the position in that regard. I presume he knows it now. We have now spent about one hour and 20 minutes in discussion although admittedly 95 per cent of the time went on totally different matters and did not deal with matters relevant to this section. It we could get back, now that we have had the four crown princes displaying their wares——

Mr. Halligan: Sorry for coming in and interrupting.

Mr. O'Malley: Not at all; we were very happy. There is a great element of levity, one might say jollity, about today's debate which was quite absent yesterday when it was rather heavy and serious. Then along came the court jester from Dún Laoghaire——

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Colley: They will apply the Official Secrets Act to you if you are not careful.

Mr. G. Fitzgerald: They cannot do that because integrity does not matter where he is concerned.

Mr. O'Malley: These are the questions that Deputy Colley and I posed last night. They relate entirely to the capitalisation of the company and it is quite ridiculous for the Minister or anybody behind him to suggest that to disclose the capitalisation of a company will give commercial competitors an advantage or that it will inhibit the borrowing powers or ability of the company which I think was what the Minister said at one stage.

Mr. Colley: The lenders will certainly have to see the information if we do not.

Mr. O'Malley: Does the Minister or those behind him have the faintest idea of what is involved? If you go to a bank or group of banks for longterm finance to open a mine and put it into production is not the first question the banks will ask: “What is your capitalisation? Have you a capitalisation plan? Have you any money subscribed in cash in respect of [1184] your equities?” Of course, in this case the answer is: “No, we have no money subscribed in cash. We have 9,998 shares issued for consideration other than cash. We have no cash. We owe large amounts that appear on the registrar of charges in the Companies Office and they appear to be very substantial amounts. Everything we have is mortgaged. But we have a capitalisation plan.”

The Minister seemed to suggest last night that there was no plan. That surprised me because as reported in the Official Report of 2nd February, 1977, at column 721, when the Minister was going through the 20 propositions I put to him he came to number nine and said:

...The next point, that no capitalisation plan exists, is untrue.

Mr. O'Malley: Where is it?

Mr. Keating: A capitalisation plan has been submitted to my Department. It exists and we have received it.

Mr. O'Malley: When was it submitted?

Then he went on to the next one. We had that kind of not very useful debate. Although on 2nd February he avowed the existence of this capitalisation plan he did not seem to know anything about it last night. He now says there is a plan but that we will not get any details. But the public and the Deputies are entitled to know if the Minister is going to subscribe to rights. Perhaps I should explain for the benefit of some of those opposite what rights are because they probably do not know but that would not inhibit them from pontificating on this matter. If a company wants to raise additional equity capital or, in this case, if it wants to raise any cash at all—it has no cash, only shares issued for consideration other than cash—it has to go back under a rights issue to its existing shareholders and ask them to contribute cash on an agreed basis. Shareholders normally contribute so much per share in accordance with the proportion of shares they have. This means that the Minister in this case would have to contribute 49 per cent. [1185] I have suggested that the figure would be about £4 million which would leave the public subscribing a further £2 million.

We have no answer on that yet and we have no answer about the guarantee. The Minister will be expected to guarantee at least half of the bank borrowings which it appears would have to be about £30 million at the least and probably more. That would leave public liability in that respect at £15 million in round figures. Add that to the £9.5 million in this Bill and to the £2 million under the rights issue and you get about £26.5 million approximately of potential public liability in respect of this matter.

It is wise to go back to first principles: this is a private company in which the State is risking all its capital in order to acquire a maximum of 49 per cent of the shares. It has no say in the running of the company and cannot ensure that the company ever goes into production. In order to get itself into that situation, it has not invested one penny in our natural resources but it has handed £9.54 million tax-free to four individuals. This is the great investment in our natural resources that Deputy Collins, Deputy Desmond and the others become so eloquent and proud about. These four individuals are in the happy position that they have £9.54 million in their pockets and they still control the company. This is incredible but it is true. They still decide whether or not the company will ever go into production. They may say: “We are up more than £2 million per head and we see no point in undertaking all the trouble and worry about planning permissions, taking on staff, having strikes and breakdowns of machinery, borrowing money and all the trauma involved in opening a new mine particularly for people who were never before involved in it and we will not bother going ahead.” I hope they do not say that but one must accept the possibility of such a decision. If they were to say that there is nothing the Minister can do about it——

Mr. E. Collins: Let us talk about the 40 ministerial orders your Government brought in.

[1186] Mr. O'Malley: ——because the Minister for Industry and Commerce at that time, whoever he may be, will be in the position that £9.54 million will not have been invested in our natural resources but will have been given to four individuals tax-free. If they were able to manoeuvre a Minister into that situation they must have some ability. They must certainly be good businessmen if they could get that money from the Minister and still retain him in a minority situation. They have some negotiating and commercial ability. It may not lie in the mining field. The present Minister or possibly myself, or whoever may be next Minister for Industry and Commerce will have to sit there with a 49 per cent share and say that a lot of money was paid for those bits of paper but the directors of Bula have now decided to postpone production indefinitely until world markets improve, or something like that. In the meantime, the minimum outlay of £9.54 million is useless; it is gone; it is not invested in the mine or in the company. It is not invested in natural resources. It is gone under the worst deal that any Minister in our history has ever done and I think nobody can seriously dispute that because nobody with the faintest commercial sense would pay £9.54 million particularly out of public money and still end up in a minority with no control, no say and no voice.

Arising out of that situation, I asked certain questions about capitalisation of the company which had no bearing on commercial opponents. It does not matter to them how the company is capitalised. It has nothing to do with the operation of selling their product or anything else. The only reason the Minister could give after a great deal of pressure from Deputy Colley—first we discussed this yesterday and it finally came down after three or four efforts by Deputy Colley to asking not in relation to this company but in relation to any company, how any harm could come to the company by a disclosure of capitalisation—was that it would weaken their borrowing position. The banks from whom they would borrow should [1187] know their capitalisation. Is that not the first question the banks would ask? “What is your equity? How much is actually paid up in cash? What is your position vis-á-vis a rights issue if we say that before we will lend to you, you will need more capitalisation? Will you refuse to take up your right?”

Mr. Esmonde: The Deputy will tell me next that every private company must be fully open for investigation by everybody.

Mr. Crowley: That is what the Labour Party say if Deputy Esmonde is not aware.

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy O'Malley, without interruption.

Mr. Colley: Is the Minister proposing to invest?

Mr. O'Malley: These simple questions were asked last night. In fairness to the Minister he tried to answer similar questions last night but when we came to these he said they were very technical and detailed and he just did not know. I got the impression, perhaps falsely, that if he did know we would have been told. That is why I was happy the section was not completed last night because it gave him an opportunity to find out and no doubt he has done that. But perhaps he has not; perhaps there is no decision on these matters. He does know whether the State will have to take up further shares through a rights issue. Perhaps no decision has been made on it. Perhaps he does not know what the situation will be in regard to guarantees. If that is so, he should tell us that no decisions have been made by the Government or the Department in relation to those matters. This has nothing to do with commercial operations. It is simply an attempt to assess what the potential full liability of the taxpayer will be in relation to this ill-fated and unhappy purchase.

Mr. B. Desmond: Once again one sees Deputy O'Malley playing postman's knock for other commercial interests. It is getting less impressive [1188] as the days pass. It started out with the ministerial order which should have been renewed because the first one was defective. Then he went on to the fact that from his investment analysis of the situation the bargain was not a good deal anyway. Such was the comprehensive details of his equity investment analysis. Yesterday it finished up being unconstitutional. Today we are back in the same merrygo-round again. I think this House is being subjected to the spectacle of a lecture from somebody who cannot even select a good stockbroker. We have had a dose of a lecture in that regard. I hope that some day the Deputy will be Minister for Industry and Commerce because it would be with a sense of great irony that Deputies would put to him the disclosure of, say, agreements reached between An Bord Gáis and individual companies in relation, possibly, to offshore gas exploration.

Mr. Colley: In relation to initial investment. I guarantee to the Deputy that under a Fianna Fáil Government no information concerning the initial investment by the State in any such company will be concealed.

Mr. E. Collins: That is the nail in your coffin so far as private enterprise in this country is concerned. I am glad you have said it.

Mr. Colley: Does the Deputy know that if it is a public company they are obliged to publish the information?

Mr. E. Collins: Why then did Fianna Fáil bring in the legislation dealing with minerals exploration and development in 1941?

An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot have proper debate by question and answer and interrogation of this kind.

Mr. B. Desmond: Let us pinpoint the touching selectivity of Fianna Fáil on this matter. Deputy Halligan rightly went back to the Potez days and indeed we had enough of that I well remember the late Seán Dunne taunting the Government of the day in relation to their most amazing secrecy at that time. Of course, this was a private [1189] French company for a while and details could not be disclosed. We built the wings of jet aircraft in a premises which is now, ironically, owned by a company which we have been discussing here today. History has a peculiar way of repeating itself, particularly in the context of the Fianna Fáil operations.

Mr. Colley: I do not think the Deputy realises the real irony of what he is talking about, that that particular company had State participation and disclosed full details of it.

Mr. B. Desmond: We can get on to that. I drew a number of analogies without any great difficulty, whether it is NET in relation to its particular contracts with private companies or the ESB and its contracts with private companies. Deputy Colley often sanctioned under the public capital programme the relationship between the post office and private companies. When I was only 18 years of age and worked for a metal fabrication company in Cork city before I joined——

Mr. Barrett: Is it relevant where or for whom he worked when he was 18?

Mr. B. Desmond: I think one should go right back to the foundation of the IDA and that exercise will be done. I have not the slightest doubt about it because it will be a very interesting exercise in terms of the dramatic about-turn of the Fianna Fáil Party in relation to a mixed economy in which the State is entitled to have fundamental rights regarding the confidentiality of its affairs. This would be completely wiped out by Fianna Fáil by initiation of a new principle here under the rule of debate. It will be marked not merely by the Confederation of Irish Industry but by many public and private entrepreneurs in relation to any future dealings under a Fianna Fáil regime.

Mr. Colley: The smokescreen is a bit thin.

Mr. Crowley: The Minister for Industry and Commerce has instructed Deputy Esmonde to speak next.

[1190] Mr. B. Desmond: Therefore, I will conclude my intervention in this matter by suggesting that Deputy Colley should go on one of those longterm IMI refresher courses.

Mr. Colley: I do not need to. I have the Deputy to tell me everything.

Mr. B. Desmond: He has the gall to come in here and suggest that all the Minister has to do is to release the initial agreement in relation to capital investment. Deputy Colley must think that the Minister is the greatest sucker in the world and that he will disclose this information to any multinational company or finance house, either here or abroad, which might have an interest in future investment in the mining industry here.

Mr. Colley: The Deputy cannot be serious. Even he could not mean that.

Mr. B. Desmond: Of course the Minister is comforted by Deputy Colley saying that he does not want any disclosure of the day-to-day operations of such an undertaking. He says that naturally that would remain within the ambit of the agreement.

Mr. Colley: As it always has.

Mr. B. Desmond: But he does want total out-pouring in relation to any, for example, State opinions or other view points——

Mr. Colley: We are asking for the details of the initial investment. We want to know what is in the agreement, what is in this section.

Mr. B. Desmond: Which means in effect disclosure of the agreement.

Mr. Colley: And why not? What is in it that will damage the company?

Mr. B. Desmond: The question I have repeatedly posed is: what do you really want?

Mr. Colley: The details of the agreement or the reason why it should not be disclosed.

[1191] Mr. B. Desmond: Deputy Colley knows perfectly well from his ministerial involvement in Cabinet affairs and particularly his involvement with the Department of Finance that no sooner would this agreement be disclosed than you would flush down the toilet of this country the prospect of future State investment with private enterprise in a mixed economy on a joint venture basis.

Mr. Colley: The Deputy is talking nonsense.

An Ceann Comhairle: Order.

Mr. B. Desmond: I charge the Deputies opposite with a malicious effort to undermine and destroy the prospect of State joint venture agreements within the context of a mixed economy.

Mr. Colley: By disclosing details of the State's investments?

Mr. B. Desmond: What is sauce for the private enterprise gander will be sauce for the State enterprise goose so long as a mixed economy situation operates. We are not going to tie our hands behind our backs in terms of State involvement and investment in the manner which Fianna Fáil suggest.

Mr. Barrett: Was it the goose or the gander that laid the golden egg?

Mr. B. Desmond: I charge you as front benchers of a so-called responsible Opposition to declare your interest.

Mr. Crowley: Let the Minister declare his interest.

An Ceann Comhairle: Order, order. If Deputy Crowley wishes to intervene he should do so in an orderly way.

Mr. B. Desmond: The Minister has a public interest and if the Deputy wishes to elaborate on any other interest he is free to do so and we can thrash out the matter at the Committee of Public Accounts.

Mr. Colley: We will do it here.

Mr. B. Desmond: Lest anybody may be shy of that issue here, I was one of the Deputies who inside and [1192] outside this House stated that Members of this House who have share-holdings in any private or public company in excess of a given amount—the amount I had in mind at the time was in the region of £1,000—should have these investments recorded in a register in this House so that when Members stand up to speak they do not have to declare their past, present or future interests. Let those in Opposition who are so magnificently lily white——

Mr. Colley: Do the Deputy's colleagues agree?

Mr. Barrett: The Deputy was advised not to proceed with this.

Mr. B. Desmond: My colleagues on the Committee of Procedure and Privileges agreed with me.

An Ceann Comhairle: Let us get back to the section.

Mr. B. Desmond: I would have the greatest pleasure in tabling a motion for the next meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and I have no doubt that, as at previous meetings, some of the Fianna Fáil people, including some of the front bench members, will oppose it.

Mr. G. Fitzgerald: On a point of order, could I ask Deputy Desmond to state when our side of the House opposed any motion at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges?

An Ceann Comhairle: That is not a point of order.

Mr. G. Fitzgerald: What the Deputy says is not true.

Mr. Lalor: On a point of order, you are the Chairman of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and I understand that the proceedings of that committee are confidential.

Mr. O'Malley: That rule never applied to Deputy Desmond. He was always leaking things to the Press.

Mr. B. Desmond: I thought this was the age of disclosure.

[1193] Mr. Colley: The Deputy should get back to the section. He will be safer on that even though he knows nothing about it.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. B. Desmond: The Opposition cannot have it both ways. They want the State to disclose their interest but Members cannot disclose their private interests. This contradiction in the Opposition, a republican party, amuses me.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Colley: Bring the motion to the House.

Mr. Halligan: Would you support such a motion?

Mr. Colley: Bring the motion in with the support of Fine Gael and Labour and then we shall see——

Mr. G. Fitzgerald: Ní féidir leis an ngobadán an dá thrá do fhreastail.

Mr. B. Desmond: This frenzied concern of the Opposition for the total disclosure by the Minister of the capitalisation of the company on a joint basis under the agreement with Bula Limited is, to say the least, suspect. It is suspect because the Fianna Fáil Party cannot get rid of the ideological blockage from which they are still suffering in relation to companies who happen to have, under our Constitution, the private ownership of resources of gas and minerals. The Opposition have had four years of advance warning of the intention of the State to change that situation dramatically, and now, as a last gasp, they want to destroy the prospect of future international investment in this country so that companies who want to join in a venture with the State would have to disclose the whole capital outlay and capitalisation of such a joint venture for every scavenger, public and private, to proceed to make a fast buck on the situation. It is significant that a man who has a wiser financial head than the rest of the party put together, Deputy Haughey, has not expressed approval of the strategy being followed by his party in this matter. I doubt very [1194] much that Deputy Haughey would approve——

Mr. Haughey: Wholeheartedly

Mr. B. Desmond: As on all matters, Deputy Haughey is wholehearted but his real opinion is carefully cloaked, and his silence in the benches over there is quite significant. The Opposition know the change in Government policy. They know the determination of the Government——

Mr. Colley: To conceal the facts.

Mr. B. Desmond: ——to carry out this policy, which has the full support of the Labour Party, for greater investment in ventures of this nature. The longer this debate goes on the clearer it will become to the public and to business people——

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: Expressions like “riff raff” should not be used in respect of Members of this House.

Mr. B. Desmond: A cursory examination of the record of Fianna Fáil in relation to any State-sponsored body or in relation to agreements with private companies will show that they tried to stand the principles, which they supposedly upheld, on their heads. They are now doing a bad day's work for future joint-venture investment in this country.

The level of the debate was reduced to an all-time low by Deputy O'Malley and he made one of the worst speeches in the 20th Dáil, with due respect to the parliamentary correspondent of the Irish Independent, in his introduction to this matter, because it had not a shred of factual evidence to substantiate the global assertions he made with gay abandon, ranging from £7½ million to £290 million. Of course one can disagree with one's colleague either in the House or through the media; it is part of Irish life, and one does not need to be nasty about it. One can have a difference of opinion with the Minister of the day. The attitude of a Minister for Posts and Telegraphs and a Minister for Justice in a previous Administration surprised me. I am sure they had many tenders before [1195] them from private companies in relation to the supply of materials for their Department and had to make up their minds on an interdepartmental basis with the Department of Finance which tender should be accepted in the national interest, the details of which would very often not be disclosed to the House. One would have thought that these two former Ministers of the Fianna Fáil Party would have exercised more wit in relation to this fundamental issue. If I had £20 million for investment in this country I would make sure I would not be coming over here to negotiate with a Fianna Fáil Minister for Industry and Commerce, bearing in mind that if the State put in another £10 million, three months later I would be screwed right left and centre by the publication of the details involved. Whether it was with CIE, ESB, Aer Lingus or any other of our companies deeply involved in public capital expenditure, not one industrialist would trust the Fianna Fáil Part in relation to an agreement because the precedent they are trying to breach here would have a scuttling effect on investment. It is a deliberate effort on the part of the Fianna Fáil Party to write down whatever value Bula may have, so that another company, well known, immediately close to it, can move in and buy out at a chickenfeed price. That is the real effort behind the scenario.

Mr. O'Malley: It is not.

Mr. B. Desmond: I put it to Deputy O'Malley that the scenario which was favoured by that company not so long ago as to how it would campaign to destroy the State's intent to invest in Bula——

Mr. Crowley: Which company?

Mr. B. Desmond: Tara. I put it to the Deputy that that scenario is being enacted here with a particular appropriateness, vindictiveness and accuracy which in the national interest——

Mr. Colley: If there was a majority shareholding on the part of the State, the Deputy would sound more convincing.

[1196] Mr. B. Desmond: If the State were to take a majority investment in Bula, the Deputies opposite would come in here withing and saying that the Labour Party Policy had been yielded to totally by Fine Gael.

Mr. O'Malley: Is it a question of Labour, 51 and Fine Gael, 49?

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: Order.

Mr. B. Desmond: The analogy is very interesting. If we had succeeded in obtaining a majority shareholding, Fianna Fáil would have issued a joint statement, probably with Tara, to the effect that the country had gone into a rampant socialist escapade in terms of State investment. But the situation is unpalatable for Fianna Fáil even with a 49 per cent shareholding just as it would be unpalatable for them if the ratio were 42 or 25. This attitude can be described only as the royalties razzamatazz of the Fianna Fáil front bench. Even that is so discredited now that they are changing feet and are suggesting that the Bill be sent to the President so as to elicit his opinion in regard to State investment on a joint venture basis.

Mr. O'Malley: Even for an ass like Deputy Desmond, that is a classic.

Mr. B. Desmond: Deputy O'Malley knows well that in effect he is presuming to advice the President in relation to matters pertaining to the Constitution.

Mr. Colley: This should go into the Guinness Book of Records.

Mr. G. Fitzgerald: Where is the Deputy performing this evening?

Mr. B. Desmond: Fianna Fáil would be wise at this juncture to stick to one objection. It is not possible for them on the one hand to have a defective order which they wish to have renewed while on the other hand to send legislation to the President on grounds of its compliance with the Constitution in the hope that from his past ministerial experience he may remember an analysis on a question of constitutionality. On the other hand, the [1197] legislation cannot be sent back to private enterprise in order to get the information that Fianna Fáil seek. That party would be wise to make up their mind on where exactly they wish to go in relation to this legislation.

Mr. O'Malley: We shall go whereever the Deputy would like us to go.

Mr. B. Desmond: On such a matter I would make up my own mind rather than go to a defunct stockbroker.

Mr. Colley: What kind of stockbroked is that?

Mr. B. Desmond: Incidentally, I do not have recourse to a stockbroker but if I needed the sort of advice that these people supply I would not go to a Fianna Fáil source to ascertain it because I know that I would receive sounder advice from this side of the House.

Mr. Colley: I suppose the Deputy will tell us shortly that we are filibustering.

Mr. B. Desmond: If Fianna Fáil wish to filibuster in relation to the Bill, the longer the debate will continue and, consequently, the more will they be discredited.

Mr. O'Malley: If the Deputy were a trout, he would be dead long ago because he would rise to every fly.

Mr. B. Desmond: The longer the debate goes on the more discredited will Fianna Fáil become in relation to their real intention in regard to the national interest and the more obvious will be their policy in relation to this country.

Mr. Colley: That is a remarkable contribution.

Mr. E. Collins: Having regard to Fianna Fáil track record in this area, one can place no credence in what they are saying. When they enacted legislation on various occasions to deal with situations similar to the one we are discussing here, they did not allow for or insist on provision for the publication of the agreements concerned. There is no point in Deputy O'Malley speaking when he does not know what he is talking about. There is no provision, [1198] for example, in the Minerals Exploration and Development Company Act, 1941 in relation to the publication of any such agreements.

Mr. Colley: Which agreement is referred to in that Act?

An Ceann Comhairle: May we hear the Deputy, without interruption?

Mr. E. Collins: Fianna Fáil's track record leaves them very flat.

Mr. Colley: Tell us about the next Act?

Mr. E. Collins: There was the Industrial Development Act, 1969.

Mr. Colley: Which agreement is referred to in that Act?

Mr. Keating: Was there no agreement in respect of that Act?

Mr. Colley: If there was an agreement, there was no prohibition on its disclosure.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: Order.

Mr. Colley: No Fianna Fáil Minister ever refused to disclose such information.

Mr. Keating: There is no prohibition in that regard in this Bill, either.

Mr. E. Collins: This new-found open philosophy on the part of Fianna Fáil is interesting. In the Acts I have mentioned there was no insistence regarding the publication of agreements.

Mr. O'Malley: To which agreements is the Deputy referring? Perhaps he would read them for us.

An Ceann Comhairle: Perhaps we could hear the Deputy.

Mr. Colley: Where, in any of the Acts referred to by the Deputy, is there provision of the kind that is concerning us here?

Mr. E. Collins: If the contribution made by Deputy O'Malley had come from a person not versed in legal and company matters, it might have had some credibility but anyone who has [1199] anything to do with a company must know that it is not possible to change the structure of the equity of a company other than by way of special resolution and that is not done by a simple majority. In other words, the Deputy is talking through his hat.

Mr. O'Malley: Perhaps Deputy Collins would develop that remark.

Mr. E. Collins: Obviously, the Deputy is not familiar with the Companies Act which provides that equity issue cannot be changed by simple majority.

Mr. O'Malley: So what?

Mr. E. Collins: In his last contribution the Deputy implied that the situation is otherwise.

Mr. Colley: In what way did he imply that?

An Ceann Comhairle: Order. Let the interruptions cease.

Mr. E. Collins: In any event, even if share capital could be changed surely the so-concerned Opposition should be happy that the Minister would revert to the House in relation to the matter. Deputy O'Malley is arguing simply for the sake of argument.

Mr. Esmonde rose.

Mr. O'Malley: On a point of order, you will recall that at about 3.40 p.m. the Minister complained of people speaking on matters that were not relevant to the very confined provisions of this definition section. Are we to assume that there has been a change of policy on his part or on the part of the Government and that there is now a concerted effort to keep the Bill going for as long as possible? If that is so, perhaps, we could be told the reason for this change.

An Ceann Comhairle: That is hardly a point of order.

Mr. G. Fitzgerald: Are we to take the silence from the other side as an indication of an answer in the affirmative?

[1200] Mr. O'Malley: Has the change been caused by Whipping problems?

Mr. E. Collins: There are no problems. We simply disregard ignorant contributions.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Chair would wish the debate to continue in an orderly fashion.

Mr. B. Desmond: Any time the Opposition would like a vote we shall be pleased to accommodate them.

Mr. Colley: Why are the people opposite holding up the Bill?

An Ceann Comhairle: Order. I am calling Deputy Esmonde.

Mr. Esmonde: I am glad that this debate has gone on for so long on this section because Deputy Colley dropped a political and economic bombshell in the last quarter of an hour when he stated that: “We in Fianna Fáil will disclose agreements between the State and companies who are taking State money.”

Mr. Colley: Will the Deputy stop there for a moment? Since the Deputy is apparently attaching some importance to this, he will appreciate that he should quote me accurately. What I said was that Fianna Fáil will never refuse to disclose the details of State investment as such in companies.

Mr. Esmonde: I take it that that is the same. If a question is asked in the House——

Mr. Colley: It is quite different from agreements.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Esmonde: I am trying to get this clear.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Colley: I have been trying to point this out all day to the Deputies. Do they not understand it?

An Ceann Comhairle: Order, order. Let us hear the Deputy in possession. If other Deputies have a point of view, they will be afforded an opportunity [1201] in orderly fashion. Deputy Esmonde without interruption. Deputy Esmonde might avoid interruption if the Deputy would speak through the Chair rather than to any Member of the House.

Mr. Esmonde: This is a very important matter. Do I understand that Deputy Colley means that if I am in opposition and he is Minister if I ask a parliamentary question for details of the agreement and the financial transactions that take place between the Government be it through the IDA or otherwise full details will be given in the House?

Mr. Colley: In so far as the agreement relates to the investment by the State the answer is yes. That is what I have been saying all along and that is what we are assured this agreement is about and that is why it should be disclosed.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: Order, order.

Mr. Esmonde: This has very serious implications for anybody in business in this country. I hope a great deal of publicity will be given to Deputy Colley's answer in the House this evening.

Mr. Colley: I hope so. It will show exactly what has happened.

An Ceann Comhairle: Order, order.

Mr. Esmonde: It is a shattering statement for anybody in the private sector of business in this country who receives State investment in their company.

Mr. Colley: Will the Deputy elaborate?

Mr. Esmonde: It means that people will be afraid to take State money if Fianna Fáil happens to be the Government of the day.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: Order, order.

Mr. Colley: Does the Deputy not know it is happening all the time and it is disclosed all the time?

[1202] Mr. Esmonde: Deputy Colley is saying that he is prepared to disclose the domestic circumstances of a company because the State happens to have an investment in it.

Mr. Colley: The details of the State's investment not the agreement.

An Ceann Comhairle: Please let the interruptions cease.

Mr. Colley: The agreement only in so far as it relates to the State's investment. If the agreement here covers more than the State's investment, we should be told so. I said all along that my remarks were based on the assumption that that is all it relates to.

An Ceann Comhairle: Order.

Mr. Keating: I beg the Deputies to yield to me on this. I beg them not to pursue this line of debate because whether it is I, or whether it is another Minister for Industry and Commerce from any of the three parties, what the Deputies are doing with this line of debate is severely damaging the work of the IDA and our efforts to promote industrial investment in this country.

Deputies: Hear, hear.

Mr. Keating: I would ask Deputies on both sides not to go on with this line because they are damaging the work of our industrial development in this country.

Mr. Colley: I did more work for the IDA than the Minister ever did and with more effect.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: Order.

Mr. Colley: The Minister is just trying to cover up whatever is in that agreement. The Minister is determined to cover it up.

Mr. Crowley: It is the biggest cover up job since Watergate.

An Ceann Comhairle: I am putting the question.

Question put.

[1203][1204] The Committee divided: Tá, 61; Níl, 55.

Barry, Peter.

Barry, Richard.

Begley, Michael.

Belton, Luke.

Belton, Paddy.

Bermingham, Joseph.

Bruton, John.

Burke, Joan T.

Burke, Liam.

Byrne, Hugh.

Clinton, Mark A.

Cluskey, Frank.

Collins, Edward.

Conlan, John F.

Coogan, Fintan.

Cooney, Patrick M.

Corish, Brendan.

Cosgrave, Liam.

Coughlan, Stephen.

Crotty, Kieran.

Cruise-O'Brien, Conor.

Desmond, Barry.

Desmond, Eileen.

Dockrell, Henry P.

Dockrell, Maurice.

Donnellan, John.

Dunne, Thomas.

Enright, Thomas.

Esmonde, John G.

Finn, Martin.

Fitzpatrick, Tom (Cavan).

Flanagan, Oliver J.

Gilhawley, Eugene.

Governey, Desmond.

Griffin, Brendan.

Halligan, Brendan.

Harte, Patrick D.

Hegarty, Patrick.

Hogan O'Higgins, Brigid.

Keating, Justin.

Kenny, Enda.

Kyne, Thomas A.

Lynch, Gerard.

McLaughlin, Joseph.

McMahon, Larry.

Malone, Patrick.

Murphy, Michael P.

O'Brien, Fergus.

O'Connell, John.

O'Donnell, Tom.

O'Leary, Michael.

Pattison, Seamus.

Reynolds, Patrick J.

Ryan, John J.

Spring, Dan.

Staunton, Myles.

Taylor, Frank.

Timmins, Godfrey.

Toal, Brendan.

Tully, James.

White, James.

Níl

Allen, Lorcan.

Barrett, Sylvester.

Brady, Philip A.

Brennan, Joseph.

Breslin, Cormac.

Briscoe, Ben.

Browne, Seán.

Brugha, Ruairí.

Burke, Raphael P.

Callanan, John.

Calleary, Seán.

Carter, Frank.

Colley, George.

Collins, Gerard.

Connolly, Gerard.

Crinion, Brendan.

Cronin, Jerry.

Crowley, Flor.

Daly, Brendan.

Davern, Noel.

de Valera, Vivion.

Dowling, Joe.

Fahey, Jackie.

Farrell, Joseph.

Faulkner, Pádraig.

Fitzgerald, Gene.

Fitzpatrick, Tom (Dublin Central).

French, Seán.

Gallagher, Denis.

Gibbons, Hugh.

Gogan, Richard P.

Haughey, Charles.

Healy, Augustine A.

Hussey, Thomas.

Kenneally, William.

Kitt, Michael P.

Lalor, Patrick J.

Leonard, James.

Lynch, Celia.

McEllistrim, Thomas.

MacSharry, Ray.

Meaney, Tom.

Moore, Seán.

Murphy, Ciarán.

Noonan, Michael.

O'Connor, Timothy.

O'Kennedy, Michael.

O'Leary, John.

O'Malley, Desmond.

Power, Patrick.

Timmons, Eugene.

Tunney, Jim.

Walsh, Seán.

Wilson, John P.

Wyse, Pearse.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Begley and B. Desmond; Níl, Deputies Lalor and Browne.

Question declared carried.

[1205] SECTION 2.

Mr. O'Malley: I move amendment No. 2:

In page 2, subsection (1), line 18, after “acquire” to insert “, after full and final planning permission has been obtained for a partly open-cast lead/zinc mine at Nevinstown, Navan, County Meath, by the Company”.

The purpose of this amendment is to make the purchase of these shares conditional on full and final planning permission being obtained. The purpose of trying to ensure there is planning permission—in the financial context of this whole operation viable planning permission not subject to conditions which are onerous or expensive—is because, without knowing what the conditions are, and obviously there will be conditions, one cannot know the cost of establishing or the cost of running the mine because there are matters entirely dependent on the conditions of the permission. We have been informed that an application was made last August to the Meath County Council. It is disturbing to find that it was only in August, 1976, that application was made because the Government have apparently owned this property since some time in 1971 and it has taken over five years to make application for planning permission. The Minister came to his agreement regarding the purchase of shares and the obtaining of other shares free in June, 1974, although the agreement was not formally signed until December, 1975.

Planning permission, the most necessary single step in the whole process of trying to put this mine into production and create employment, was only put in train 2 ¼ years after the Minister became involved in the shareholding of the company. We are, of course, fortunate enough to have minerals like this in the country. This is the first time a rich orebody has been found but to my mind there has been a quite extraordinary delay on the part of the company in seeking planning permission. The application was put in in August, 1976, and one learned it was [1206] not making much progress and the most important single environmental factor that should have been in the planning application was not in it at all. I refer to the diversion of the River Blackwater which is pretty well essential for economic development. One can assume that Meath County Council would hardly have looked very favourably on a planning application that omitted the most significant aspect of the whole operation. Since then we have learned in more detail what the attitude of the Meath County Council is in relation to this planning application. Unfortunately, from the point of view of the public, if this Bill goes through, as presumably it will by virtue of numbers, if nothing else, we have since discovered that the situation is in fact a great deal more serious than we might have thought. I will quote now from an article in last Sunday's Independent written by Mr. Vincent Browne. I might add that there has been no denial from Meath County Council of anything in this article so I assume it is accurate. The article states:

Serious difficulties have also emerged this weekend about planning permission for the development of the mine. An official of Meath County Council said that on the basis of the present planning application there was “no chance” that planning permission would be given.

Later on, the writer says:

On the issue of the planning application, Bula Ltd. first submitted an application last August, but this was returned to the company in October because information accompanying it was inadequate.

The county council “in returning the application asked 32 question mainly related to noise, dust, environmental and health aspects, but most of these questions were unanswered when the planning application was re-submitted on December 21, last”.

The article goes on:

This weekend the planning application has again been returned to Bula, without even formal consideration [1207] of it by the Meath County Council. Bula would certainly appeal to the Planning Appeals Tribunal recently established, if Meath County Council ultimately rejects its application. Since the setting up of the tribunal, there is considerably less scope for political interference with planning permissions. It cannot be taken for granted, therefore, that even ultimately Bula will get the planning permission.

It also emerges that Bula has made no application for the diversion of the river Blackwater, under which much of the ore in the area is situated. Lack of information on this, and on other critical aspects of the project, is one of the reasons why there is such disappointment in the Meath County Council with the Bula application.

That appears to me to be a vital statement of the current position in relation to the planning application from the point of view of bringing this orebody to the point where the mine might be able to go into production. Planning permission was not sought for more than five years after the company purchased the property and for more that two years after the Minister became involve through the medium of the agreement he came to in June, 1974. These delays are very distressing and the likelihood of early planning permission seems far from hopeful.

Thirty-two specific queries were apparently raised by the county council and after an interval of some months a lot of those were not even answered when the planning application was re-submitted to the local authority. The position as of last weekend was that there was not even formal consideration given to the latest re-submission because it was apparently so incomplete and the queries not dealt with and it was sent back to the company. So we are in every sense back at square one and no more advanced in regard to the planning application than we were in August, 1976, when it was first submitted or indeed in June, 1974, when the Minister first became involved.

[1208] One aspect of this application is that it seeks permission for the mining of the Bula part of the ore in this orebody partly by open-cast mining. Roughly speaking, the percentages or ratios are that they want to get out about 50 per cent by open-cast mining and 50 per cent approximately by ordinary conventional underground mining. It is necessary to consider for a few minutes the nature of open-cast mining because we have not had it in this country on a big scale. We have had it on a limited scale. In recent years the Gortdrum mine was partly, to a limited extent, an opencast mine; but the Gortdrum mine was situate quite some distance from any town. The nearest town to it of any size would have been Tipperary town. I cannot say exactly how far away it was but it was certainly several miles and there was no great accumulation of houses in the vicinity of that mine. Any other opencast or partly open-cast mine that we have had in this country would have been in the fairly distant past or just a sort of quarrying operation where minerals were not really involved, but just stone, and these have tended to be away from centres of population. On the world scene opencast lead and zinc mines are not unknown but they tend because of environmental factors to be confined to more remote parts of the world.

In this instance of this orebody a small part of it at the Bula end comes up to or very close to the surface before it starts to go down at an angle under the river and continue downwards or in a roughly downward direction for quite a distance on the other side of the river. It is unfortunate that that part of it is at or near the surface and that that circumstance is combined with its extreme proximity to the town of Navan. If this mine were situate at a more remote place it would be an enormous advantage to have it in this way with one end of the seam or orebody coming up to or close to the surface. It is unfortunate that an orebody such as this should have turned up in the place that it did, so close to a fairly large town. It appears that in the last five or ten years a lot of new houses have been built in the general vicinity of this orebody and [1209] in general the orebody is within half a mile of the town of Navan which is only a short distance in environmental terms when one takes into account the nature of an open-cast mine.

An application to have the Bula ore mined partly by open-cast and partly by underground methods is based on the provisional mining plan prepared by the Canadian subsidiary of Bechtel on behalf of Bula and submitted to the arbitrators and to the local authority. Bechtel apparently take the view that the more open-cast mining that can be done on this orebody the better because it will make the mine or the Bula part of it more profitable. The difference in cost of extraction and concentration of the two methods of mining is estimated at various sums. The best advice I can get in respect of that is that it would appear to be a difference of £4 a ton in production and concentration of the ore; that of course is a significant difference if one accepts the output of the Bula part of the orebody as being approximately a million tons of ore a year. That will mean a difference in running costs of £4 million a year approximately if one were forced into an underground situation rather than an open-cast mine. It is obvious, therefore, that Bula and their advisers would, very properly in the interests of the company, presumably be supported in this by the Minister in seeking to have as much as possible mined by open-cast methods.

An open-cast mine has to be opened by machinery and explosives. The quicker it is opened the more commercially advantageous it is. Therefore, having got your permission, you could open it by working 24 hours a day, seven days a week and so you would cut your costs and bring your mine into production much more rapidly. In doing that you would keep down your capital expenditure.

There will obviously be enormous, perfectly understandable, objections in the locality to work going on there on the opening of an open-cast mine and subsequently on the mining of the ore from it on a 24-hour-day basis or anything even remotely like that. It will presumably be the wish of the [1210] local residents, if open-cast mining is to be used there at all, to have it confined to ordinary eight to five or eight to six working hours when people, particularly children, would not be expected to be asleep normally. The county council will be very strongly pressed by objectors and local residents that, if they are going to give permission at all for open-cast mining, they confine the hours of the operation, and presumably also the mode of the operation of opening the pit and mining from it; and that the machinery and explosives appropriate to the opening of an open-cast mine in the middle of the Australian desert or some such place would not be at all appropriate to the edge of the town of Navan and that less efficient but environmentally more acceptable methods would have to be used.

If the local authority listen to these views and accede to them—and one can scarcely envisage how they could refuse to do so—the costings of this proposed mine will be considerably higher than have been envisaged by those who made valuation bets on the Bechtel report. Of course those who made valuations based on the Bechtel report were not confined by any means to Bula's economists or Bula's financial advisers. The Minister did not have any detailed examination of the production plan of the mine carried out on his behalf and he simply used the Bechtel report and the other documents submitted by Bula to the arbitrators, copies of which were sent to him and these documents in turn were submitted by him to his various advisers, such as the Geological Survey, Lazard Brothers and Company Ltd., Mergers Ltd., and the other people who advised the Department from time to time in regard to the valuation, the feasibility and the likely cost of this project.

It would appear from what we now know that Lazard Brothers were very concerned, and very properly so, about the planning and environmental aspects of the proposed operation. Although they had only six weeks to do a job which obviously would need many times that to do it as thoroughly as they would wish, in that period of [1211] six weeks they commissioned one of the leading firms of town planning consultants in Ireland, the name of which I understand is Delaney, McVeigh and Pike to advise them on the planning and environmental considerations involved.

One understands that Mr. Delaney of that firm, one of the principal partners, in advising Lazard, who in turn passed on the advice to the Department, expressed grave reservations about the planning aspects generally, and expressed great fear about delays, and set out what he felt was likely to be a timetable. He felt there would be considerable delay. By virtue of the lack of progress of the application to Meath County Council for the reasons I mentioned earlier, it would appear that Mr. Delaney's timetable has been set back perhaps another four, five or six months, and that it could be late in 1978 before one would finally be in a position to know where one stood in regard to planning.

All this presupposes that planning permission in some form will be given eventually. I do not think one is entitled to presuppose that. Many people take the view that it is unrealistic to talk about the possibility of planning permission not being granted because there is a Minister involved. While that may be a popular way of looking at it, I do not think it is fair to the local authority concerned, who will look at the matter objectively whether or not a Minister is involved. Although I do not know anything about them. I hope the new planning board, with some experienced officials and some other members who I understand on the admission of their patron have no experience whatever in this field, will be equally objective, and one trusts they will, in their consideration of this matter.

Obviously this is one of the most involved planning applications made to any local authority since our new form of planning came into operation in 1964 under the 1963 Act. The appeal, if there is one, and there almost certainly will be either by Bula if they are turned down by the local [1212] authority or by the objectors if permission is given, will be a very lengthy process. One would expect An Taisce to become involved as well as the local residents. There will probably be an enormous amount of evidence given and technical evidence from various parts of the world will be called and 300 or 400 individual householders or house owners may wish to come along to voice their objections.

Therefore, it is very likely to be up to two years from now before what I describe in this amendment as full and final planning permission is granted. An enormous number of things could well happen in that very long period, whether it is nearly two years, as has been suggested, or whether it is a shorter period of one year, or a year and a quarter. Certainly it will be a very long period by any normal standards. An enormous number of things can happen in the meantime. An enormous number of factors which are imponderables at present may clarify themselves in one way or another.

If some of these imponderables and, in particular, if the planning imponderables clarify themselves in a way which is seriously detrimental to the company, is not the position of the taxpayer, who is ultimately carrying the can for the Minister in regard to this whole affair, seriously jeopardised? Should not the Minister wait until he knows where he stands in relation to planning before he commits himself and the taxpayer to the money mentioned here and to the potential further payments which may have to be made, and probably will have to be made, as a result of the undercapitalisation of the company and the necessity for giving guarantees, and so on?

Would not any prudent businessman make perfectly sure that he would not expend a £5 note on a project of this kind which was obviously going to be the subject of enormous objection at the two levels of the planning process? Would not a man of even the most moderate prudence decline to become involved until the planning situation had clarified itself? It might be—although I think it unlikely— [1213] that Bula will get a fairly straightforward planning permission with some slight or what would be from their point of view very reasonable restrictions on their mode of working and the amount of work they could do in opening an open-cast mine and mining from it.

On the other hand, it is very likely that planning permission could be granted subject to conditions which Bula or anyone else who owned an orebody they wanted to mine on the edge of a town by open cast mining would find very onerous in the financial sense to comply with? Is it not perfectly conceivable in this instance that the conditions might be such, because of the nature of open cast lead and zinc mining, that the company in their commercial financial wisdom might decide it was too expensive to go ahead and that to comply with all those conditions would add millions of pounds and perhaps even tens of millions of pounds to the capital and running costs of the company? Therefore they would decide as a matter of prudence not to go ahead with opencast mining and to think again about opening an underground mine to which one would assume there would be no significant or serious objection.

The whole costing situation is then thrown into the melting pot if that happens. I have been talking only about the things which might happen on the positive side. I have been assuming all along that permission will actually be given. Are we entitled blandly to make that assumption? The public are making it because a Minister is involved but, as I said, that is not sufficient reason for making it. We are not entitled to assume that, even subject to onerous conditions, permission will be given. It is quite conceivable that it will be refused.

I understand that in the past few weeks An Taisce have issued a public statement to the effect that this part of the orebody could be mined underground and, if that were done, there would be very little environmental or other harm caused in the locality. There would be no noise, or very little noise. The noise would be quite negligible. There would be no dust because everything would be underground. [1214] There would be no muck or dirt because all the work would be going on underground. There would be no danger to health from lead concentrate or zinc concentrate which I think is less dangerous but, nonetheless, contains some danger to health if inhaled in large quantities.

All these problems would be avoided by underground mining but the cost to the company would be significantly more. It might be that the local authority and/or the appeals tribunal to whom the inevitable appeal would be brought in this case by one side or the other would say: “O.K. We accept the company's case that it would cost them a great deal more, millions and millions of pounds more, to operate an underground mine. It appears to be technically feasible, at any rate, and even though it will cost millions and millions of pounds more, the harm to the environment caused by an opencast mine in this place would be so great that we cannot see our way to give permission for it.” That is on the cards. I do not say it will happen but it is certainly a possibility to which one would have to give very serious consideration.

The House should look at this question, not from the point of view of the Minister who is committing and has committed himself with his eyes closed —this was long ago in June, 1974— but from the point of view of a prudent and successful businessman, a man like yourself, Mr. Chairman. Would any prudent and successful businessman commit more than £9.5 million into a venture such as this where the planning and environmental difficulties are enormous, probably greater than in the case of any other single planning application since 1964? There is only one possible answer and that is that no prudent businessman would do it. If a prudent businessman would not commit himself to spending this money whether he got planning permission or not—which is what this amounts to— why should a Minister in charge of public moneys commit those moneys to a purpose to which no businessman would commit his own money or his bank's or his shareholders' money? We all know that no businessman would do it but still we are asked here [1215] where we represent the Irish people to give carte blanche to the Minister for Industry and Commerce to do this with our money. I think that is wrong and I would be very surprised if the chairman thought it was anything other than wrong.

Acting Chairman (Mr. M.E. Dockrell): My thoughts may not be introduced no matter how lattering they may appear to be.

Mr. O'Malley: I know that. In this amendment I seek to defer the payment of the money until permission is obtained if it is obtained, and if it is not, that the money should not be paid. If it is obtained, I seek to give Dáil Éireann and the country at large an opportunity to assess the conditions, to give Bechtel an opportunity to produce a detailed production plan based on the actual conditions that will apply, not on some theoretical possibility that if we were given permission to do (a) we would do it this way and if the permission were (b), we would do it another way and so on. Bechtel should be handed a planning permission if they ever come. They should be told: “These are the conditions for planning permission, now produce a detailed plan.” Having done that, they should go to the financial advisers of the Minister and the company and let them work out the capital costings and the day-to-day costings of producing the ore concentrate. Until that is done, one cannot have all these plans the Minister says exists. No doubt they all exist in the sense that they are written on paper that if such and such, then so and so.

Until you know that, first, you have permission and, second, you know what the conditions are, you cannot produce any of the subsequent 19 points I referred to in my Second Reading speech, because you cannot have a production plan that is final or definite. You can have an assumed one subject to contingencies; you can base it on a hypothetical situation that if you did have planning permission, subject to these conditions then this would be a suitable production plan. Until you know the conditions, you [1216] cannot know any of the other factors needed to arrive at the final figures in relation to this company. Until you have planning permission and you know the cost of complying with those conditions you cannot make a final valuation of that company and you are foolish to try. Lazard have said that very forcefully and clearly, and I have no doubt that various other advisers on all sides have said much the same.

No prudent businessman would get himself involved in a situation of so many imponderables, and the biggest of them all is the planning imponderable. If no prudent, normal, businessman would do it, why should a Minister using public money do it? Surely the standard for a Minister is not less than that of a prudent, knowledgeable, businessman. I suggest that because public money is involved it should even be higher. That only reinforces my argument.

There is no point in somebody like Deputy B. Desmond coming in here, as he almost certainly will, and say that Tara went ahead before they had planning permission, as did other companies, for an underground mine where there was not the slightest difficulty or doubt about the fact that they were going to get it because there was little or no interference in those cases with the environment or with the locality or the amenities enjoyed by the several thousand people who live close by. They were not seriously interfered with in all the development that has taken place up to now and they would not be interfered with to any significant degree by the non-open cast method of this mine. They will be interfered with by open-cast mining. There is, therefore, grave doubt about the situation generally.

It appears that Mr. Delaney who is very experienced in these matters gave precise and detailed advice to Lazard about the difficulties being encountered here. He said there would be very substantial difficulties and that there was no guarantee that at the end of them the permission would be definitely forthcoming, although he thought it very likely that it would, and there was no guarantee that the [1217] conditions would not be extremely onerous and costly to comply with in financial terms. That is the position we are faced with. There is no businessman of even reasonable prudence who would commit himself to a deal like this without planning permission. The Minister is now seeking to do it. Because of that, he is unable to assess accurately the costs of all the various other aspects of trying to open the mine.

That is why I believe this whole operation is foolish. I do not believe, as Deputy Desmond and others sought to suggest, that the State should never get involved in equity participation in companies, even in mining companies which are notoriously the most dangerous of all. I have no objection to the State getting involved, subject to two conditions: first, that they have control of the company. They should not be in the degrading position they are in now, where even if they got 59 per cent of the shares they would still be outvoted by the 41 per cent held in one block. Secondly, if the State is involved, the company should not act in a way a normal, prudent, businessman would not act.

The State should not put in £9.54 million in circumstances in which a normal, prudent, businessman would refuse to put it in. If a normal, prudent, businessman would wait to see the terms or existence of the planning permission, the Minister, too, should wait. I have no objection, to equity participation by the State in mining or any other commercial or industrial venture. I damn well object to the State going in in circumstances that they are making fools of themselves when no businessman would do the same. I also object to them going in with a permanent in-built minority situation, and taking foolish risks such as this in paying a large sum of money for a minority shareholding, when there is no permission given for something one cannot assume permission about. If the State were prepared to act as a normal, prudent, businessman would act, I would be behind them in that respect but they are not doing that here.

Mr. Keating: I dealt at length with the subject matter of this section during [1218] the Second Stage debate. Deputy O'Malley described the situation about the planning application which is between the applicant company and the people who have the statutory responsibility to deal with it. I must be very careful not to express any views that could be interpreted as seeking to influence the decisions that these people may make. Of course, there are certain things I can say without influencing the position or without, I hope, in any way being accused of endeavouring to apply unfair pressure. Orebodies occur not where we would wish them, but they have been there for millions of years and they occur where we found them. We do not choose the location. In having an orebody of that magnitude and of that quality, grading at that level, and coming so near the surface, we have had a great piece of good fortune. In having it so close to Navan, we have had bad fortune, because one wants to keep the environment of our towns and cities not just as good as it is, but continuously making it better.

It is a truism that between the optimum economic exploitation of that orebody, and the proper environmental concerns of the people of Navan, particularly those closest to the mine, that is, between maximum profit and maximum environmental protection, there is, of course, a conflict and there will have to be a trade off. That is a truism which I am sure we all accept.

The optimum economic development of this orebody is very important at a number of levels. Firstly, it is important for prosperity. Let us remember that while Navan have an environmental threat and they must be very aware of this, on the other hand they have good fortune because this means prosperity for the area. The livelihood of the people employed there during the construction and production stages is also a consideration. That is a plus. It is important for the State not only because of their financial interest in it but much more widely because of the added value which can be achieved from processing the ores by an Irish smelter and because of the significant impact that will have on our exports and our balance of payments.

[1219] On the other hand, there is the important consideration of the environment and of the entitlement of the people living in the area to arrangements which will not unduly interfere with their lives. I believe the whole task is to find solutions which reasonably provide for both those important objectives. I am prepared, even though apparently others are not, to leave it to the applicants for planning permission and to the competent authorities to work out appropriate solutions.

I want to emphasise this. The question of planning permission was fully considered by the board of arbitrators. They reached their decision after hearing all the facts. It is relevant to say in regard to the seriousness of their work on the planning aspect that members of the board visited the site of the mine and were able to see for themselves its relationship to the town of Navan and its environment.

There was an assault on the competence of the board of arbitrators, and the correctness of the Government in choosing that arbitration mechanism. The board consisted of three people, one a lawyer and an engineer, a rare combination in those important skills, a man who had considerable experience of planning because he had been involved in planning applications and planning permissions; another an accountant with money skills, and the third an engineer with technological skills. In terms of the range of their skills, it would have been hard to find a more balanced board. If one says there should have been mining specialists——

Mr. O'Malley: I was interrupted by the Official Reporters sending in for documents but is the Minister talking about the arbitrators?

Mr. Keating: Yes. I was saying they had visited the site and not alone had they submissions but one was actually a planning specialist and they had gone to have a look at the mine. Such was the seriousness of the concern that arose on this question of planning permission.

[1220] Furthermore, detailed submissions were made by the State and their advisers in relation to the environmental indications on different mining methods, both as regards the type of measures which would have to be adopted to reduce the environmental impact of the operations to acceptable levels, and also how the provision of these measures would affect development and production costs. The board were made fully aware of the planning legislation and procedures applicable here and the environmental standards which had been imposed in relation to mining development nearing completion in the area. The report and outline specification which Bula submitted to the planning authorities were made available to the board. Ultimately, the members of the board having seen the position on the ground, and having studied everything submitted by the two sides, had to draw their own conclusion as to what the likely outcome of the planning application would be.

Let me say this about planning. We have had bad experiences in two directions. We have had had experiences because we let things happen which should not have happened. They are numerous and stretch over a long period. Now, at last, and I say it with great pleasure as a long-standing environmentalist, we have become aware of the environment. In politics it is suddenly a matter of public concern and I am very pleased about that. Then we made a few mistakes by not permitting things to happen which should have. I give the example of Schering Plough in the Suir Valley. This industry would have been of great help and benefit to that area but it did not go ahead.

The danger, as Deputies know, is to avoid exaggeration and hysteria and letting the genie out of the bottle because you can drive half-informed, quarter-informed or not completely informed people crazy with apprehension and prevent things from happening that ought to. That is a great danger. I regret Schering Plough. We were doing very well in the pharmaceutical industry but it went astray. I am sure it was a mistake, [1221] and as an environmentalist, I am sure that industry posed no threat to the environment.

On the other hand, we succeeded with Asahi, though it was a close run thing. I am glad we did but it was very dodgy and it makes a great deal of difference to a large area of Mayo. This is a delicate area and I want to avoid the possibilities of hysteria and bad decisions. When that is said, it therefore follows that the valuation put by the arbitrators took into consideration all those things which were thoroughly and fairly put before them. Indeed, a report which Deputy O'Malley quoted was in fact prepared for one of my advisers for my side of the argument and at my behest.

Mr. O'Malley: Is the Minister suggesting that because the report was prepared for him it was geared to give the impression that the prospects of planning permission were worse than they actually were?

Mr. Keating: No. I am suggesting that we were well aware of the planning difficulty and we were telling it like it was. The real problem deserved a thorough examination and needed to be looked at truthfully without hysteria.

Mr. O'Malley: Was it what the Minister has called a negotiating report?

Mr. Keating: Since about 6 o'clock we have been behaving reasonably and on this very sensitive issue I should like to continue. Suddenly we get the tone of sneer and of irrelevance introduced because the Deputy is talking about the question of valuation procedures. He has an amendment about valuation. We will debate it. I want to do so but if we observe the decencies we will get there all the quicker. I was making the point that the material quoted was produced from our side. The valuation for the whole orebody took those things into consideration and the valuation assumes a normal return on capital. That is one way of defining what a valuation is; it is that which gives an average return on capital.

[1222] If we had invested at that rate we might have been doing something good or something bad; we would have been taking the normal risk. But we did not do that. That is where the built-in protection is because we got more than twice as much as the money we spent. We asked the valuation of the orebody and they gave us an answer. That arbitration will stand up and the excellence of the arbitrators will stand up. Of that total valuation we got more than 100 per cent compensation built in because we got 49 per cent for the price of 24 per cent. It is something that a normal and prudent person would do because it is twice as good as that which the arbitrators considered would give a normal return on capital. That is not the end of the story because Deputy O'Malley knows that the Tara orebody is four times as big as the Bula one, give or take a bit; we cannot be exact. Deputy O'Malley knows that I could not have got 25 per cent of Tara without 25 per cent of Bula.

Mr. O'Malley: Why not?

Mr. Keating: Because there was an agreement given under duress by the previous Government that they would get a lease and because without the negotiating card in my hand, without having got the 25 per cent without charge from Bula, there was not a hope in hell of getting it from Tara.

Mr. O'Malley: Without any agreement as to the terms of it?

Mr. Keating: I got 49 per cent and I got another 25 per cent of something four times as big. If normal, prudent businessmen could find deals as good as that they would be queuing up for them.

Mr. O'Malley: Is there anyone queuing up to buy you a shareholding?

Mr. Keating: There are various other points but I have tried to deal concisely with what Deputy O'Malley said. There are bits and pieces about open-casting, about small points that I could take up but I will not. How can it be called a bad deal when one form-it be called a bad deal when one formally got twice as much and in fact got [1223] four times as much again as the amount an arbitrator considers will give a normal return on capital?

Mr. Barrett: What Deputy O'Malley is asking the Minister to do by way of accepting this amendment is quite reasonable. The Minister has not dealt with the amendment at all in his reply. All Deputy O'Malley is asking the Minister to do is to postpone payment of any moneys until such time as planning permission has been granted. This is a very reasonable approach and is quite a normal practice in business particularly when dealing with property. Most people who buy property for development in any form insert a condition in their contracts of sale making the purchase subject to planning permission. Deputy O'Malley is asking the Minister to do something that is being done everyday. What control has the Minister over the length of time that will elapse with regard to this planning permission? He has spoken about assessments and valuations by experts and so on. He has mentioned Schering-Plough. I mention the planning application for the Dublin Bay oil refinery. How long did that go on from the date of the first submission to the planning authority until it finished up following and oral hearing? As far as I am aware it went on for a number of years. Surely the Minister will appreciate that the promoters of that project also had expert advice available to them such as the Minister says he has had?

Mr. Keating: Does the Deputy not believe me?

Mr. Gallagher: The Minister will accept that nobody had any control over the length of time it took. The Minister is proposing to pay out part of £9.5 million. In the interests of the people of Navan and the surrounding area we hope that the decision about planning permission will not take too long but it is quite possible that it will take two years or longer because of emotionalism, oral hearings and all that goes with this. We have experienced this recently in the case of the Dublin Bay oil refinery.

[1224] Progress reported; Committee to sit again.