Saturday 23 February 2019

Secret memo warned TD was trying to set up a meat cartel

Scandal led to FitzGerald dismissing minister

Garret FitzGerald at the Fine Gael Ard Fheis in October 1983 Picture: John Carlos
Garret FitzGerald at the Fine Gael Ard Fheis in October 1983 Picture: John Carlos

Ralph Riegel

Taoiseach Dr Garret FitzGerald was warned in a secret memo that claimed one of his government ministers was effectively attempting to establish a cartel within the Irish meat industry.

The revelation came as State papers, released under the 30-year rule, confirmed how seriously the Government took the allegations against junior minister and Waterford TD Eddie Collins.

Mr Collins was dismissed in September 1986 as junior trade minister after refusing a request from Dr FitzGerald to resign following a controversy over his failure to disclose an alleged conflict of interest.

The Waterford TD had vehemently rejected any question of a conflict of interest and dismissed all the allegations levelled against him.

However, four months earlier, a secret memo revealed mounting Government concerns over Mr Collins's business affairs.

A memo for Dr FitzGerald, dated May 27, 1986, dealt with claims levelled against Mr Collins from both a rival meat firm and an investigative journalist.

"I think it is fair to say that the 'evidence' against Mr Collins is purely circumstantial," it said.

However, the memo referred to a telex sent by a solicitor for a rival meat firm in January 1985.

That firm claimed Mr Collins had contacted them and asked them to buy his firm out.

"Eddie indicated to R. that he wanted to make a lot of money and quick and suggested that his company and H. would work together to maximise profits and effectively operate a cartel.

"R. indicated that he would have no interest in doing this, whereupon Eddie became very agitated and upset," it said.

The Government memo stressed that the telex and its contents were very serious.

They referred to a meeting in June 1983 - a time when Mr Collins was a minister.

"The content of this would worry me if there is any truth in it," the senior civil servant wrote.

"This does not say that Mr Collins expressly wanted to operate a cartel.

"It is certainly open to the meaning that the H. people considered.

"That's what he wanted 'in effect'.

"There is nothing wrong with two companies with similar interests working together simpliciter but there may well be if they set out to operate a cartel and the effective owner of one is a person in Mr Collins's position."

Investigation

"All I can say is that these papers make a serious imputation against Mr Collins and in my view they may be sufficient to warrant such suspension and his conduct to be investigated."

Mr Collins had served as a junior minister in the department of industry and energy in 1981-82.

However, in 1983 he was appointed as junior minister at the Department of Trade, Commerce and Tourism.

He was dismissed by Dr FitzGerald after refusing a request to submit his resignation to end the controversy over an alleged conflict of interest.

Irish Independent

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