Dukes accused Mitchell of questioning his authority in Irish Shipping row

Minister for communucations wanted company to be kept running until end of 1985

A bitter row between two senior Fine Gael cabinet ministers over Irish Shipping Ltd (ISL) is revealed in the State papers.

With the State-owned company out of money and facing liquidation, minister for communications Jim Mitchell prepared a memo for the government in October 1984 questioning the judgment of minister for finance Alan Dukes.

Mr Mitchell saw “considerable merit in keeping ISL in operation until the end of 1985” even though it would mean pumping in another £20 million of State funds. He argued that before any decision on liquidation was made, the government should consider the threat to the creditworthiness of the State, the damaging effects on internal confidence, and political repercussions, among other factors.

The memo, which was labelled “secret”, argued Mr Dukes’s assessment of the potential impact of the decision on the creditworthiness of the State and on State bodies should be “confirmed by independent advice” before any government decision was made.

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In a letter to Mr Mitchell, Mr Dukes objected strongly to this proposal.

Mr Dukes also wrote to taoiseach Garret FitzGerald saying Mr Mitchell’s proposal amounted to “a direct questioning of my authority and competence.”

Mr Mitchell argued “the commissioning of independent advice in areas of ministerial responsibility is not unusual”.

But a memo prepared for the taoiseach dated October 31st agreed with Mr Dukes, saying what Mr Mitchell was “purporting to submit to Government in this instance is a gross breach of Government procedure instructions to put it at its mildest”.

The taoiseach was told to reject the “unworthy and unseemly” proposal.

A week later, a further memo was prepared for the government agreeing in principle to the liquidation of ISL. Irish Shipping was liquidated on November 14th, 1984.

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