Harney under pressure to publish reports on supply of Irish goods by Tesco

 

Calls have been made for the publication of two official reports, deemed confidential by the Government, on the supply of Irish goods by Tesco Ireland.

The Fine Gael spokeswoman on enterprise, trade and employment, Mrs Nora Owen TD, criticised "the secrecy surrounding the reports". She said the refusal of the Tanaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Ms Harney, to publish them was unacceptable. Mr Mike Campbell, chief executive of the retailers' association, RGDATA, backed the appeal. "For a Government that purports to openness and transparency it is inexplicable why it refuses to make the studies public.

A spokeswoman for the Department said the ESRI reports, commissioned by Enterprise Ireland and An Bord Bia in association with Tesco, contained commercially sensitive information and would not be made public.

The first, completed last February, showed the size and structure of the supply base to the former Quinnsworth chain in the year ending February 1997. The second, which has yet to be received by the Department, measures the purchase of Irish products by Tesco in the year ended February 1998.

The company has agreed with the Department to increase its trade with Irish suppliers by more than 40 per cent, from £692 million in 1996/1997 to £997 million a year by 2002. It said Irish supplies accounted for more than 40 per cent of sales at present.

However, Ms Owen said there was anecdotal evidence to show that, since Tesco took over the Quinnsworth/Crazy Prices chain in May 1997, the range of Irish products in stores had decreased. Mrs Owen said the Minister appeared to have been compromised by the fact that Tesco, rather than the Department, funded the reports. "

Ms Harney told the Dail last month that while Enterprise Ireland and An Bord Bia had commissioned the benchmark first report, Tesco had "primary ownership" of it. However, she stressed that "the commitments given by Tesco to purchase Irish products are being monitored".

In a statement, Tesco said the benchmarking of Irish purchasing patterns was proposed voluntarily by Tesco in early 1997 " as a means of providing confidence to the Government that our commitment to increase purchasing from Irish companies could be independently verified over time".

"The information gathered annually is reported confidentially to Tesco Ireland and to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment."

The company also said the information was also used by the Tesco group to direct purchasing plans with Irish companies. It added that there was an extensive programme to increase business for Irish suppliers.