Tuesday, 7 June 2011
The Deputy should note that as Minister for Finance, I have had no direct dealings with Liberty Mutual in regard to this transaction, including the issue of the future of all existing job holders. However, I have been informed by the joint administrators that aside from the redundancies in Manchester, all 1,570 jobs in Quinn Insurance Limited have been protected for at least two years. When they gave me that commitment, they referred to "two years" because that was as far as they were prepared to make an estimate into the future. There was no suggestion that any of the jobs will be at risk after two years. I understand the jobs will be transferred to Liberty Mutual Direct Insurance Company Limited under the protection of employees rights on transfer of undertakings regulations. That will ensure the current terms and conditions are protected.
It is important to keep in mind that in assessing the bids for the business of Quinn Insurance Limited, the joint administrators were required to consider how best the interests of policy holders could be protected and how the company could be returned to a sound commercial footing. This was their primary responsibility, in line with the powers given to them under the Insurance (No. 2) Act 1983. While the retention and protection of employment was important, it was subject to the aforementioned responsibilities. In the circumstances, the proposed deal between Liberty Mutual and Anglo Irish Bank represents an excellent outcome from a jobs perspective because it provides a commitment to maintaining jobs for at least two years and achieves the primary objective of protecting policy holders. Liberty Mutual has not given an indication of what will happen to these jobs at the end of the two-year period, but I remain hopeful that they will be maintained. Quinn Insurance Limited has been purchased by a company with an impressive track record in the insurance industry. It is conscious of the importance of ensuring competition in the Irish insurance market and appreciates its role in providing employment and economic development in the Border region and further afield.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
An agreement was reached between Anglo Irish Bank and the senior lenders to the Quinn Group whereby the €1.3 billion debt of the latter is being restructured. This will result in the removal of a long-running and significant uncertainty from these businesses, which are strong but were over-indebted. Their lending facilities were in breach of covenant for some time. As a result of the agreement, all or almost all manufacturing jobs will be retained. It is important to state clearly to the House that a viable future depends to a large degree on the willingness by everybody, particularly those engaged in recent negative events, to engage wholeheartedly with the new ownership arrangements and to begin to put their energies into growing the business and contributing to getting jobs back into the local economy on both sides of the Border. This is important. If this does not happen, over time there is likely to be a negative impact on the performance of the group and consequences for jobs. None of us in the House wants to see this.
Deputy O'Reilly's question asked whether the Minister is satisfied that he is in a position to put adequate measures in place. The Minister's reply indicated that there are no measures which he can put in place. He indicated that he is at a remove from the real engagement in this instance. Is that the case? Can he be more specific? In light of the assurances the Minister has received in the past, which he has in turn conveyed to the all-party cross-Border group - I am concerned to hear about the "commitment" that has been given in this case. I recall that on the last occasion on which we met, the Minister indicated that the Quinn Insurance proposals, which are an alternative to the Anglo-Liberty proposals, had been scrutinised properly by the National Treasury Management Agency. Since that meeting, however, I have received correspondence from the agency's senior legal adviser to the effect that the agency had no such role and carried out no such function. Its only responsibility was to assess the proposals that were referred to it by the joint administrators for consideration. Is it not the case, therefore, that the belief the Minister expressed on that occasion has been contradicted by the National Treasury Management Agency in the correspondence it sent me in my role as convener of the all-party group? I suggest the position we feared most - that the Quinn Insurance-based proposals would not be given the proper, fair and full consideration they deserved - has come to pass.
I have explained my position. The Deputy understands it fully. I am not directly a party to the sale. The Deputy knows how it occurred. Having met the principals in Liberty, I am confident that the jobs are secure. According to the Liberty Group's business plan, the intention is to grow and expand the company and to increase, rather than reduce, the number of jobs. That is what I was told by the gentleman from Armagh who is the chief executive of Liberty at present. He gave me assurances in that regard. I thought he was a very credible person. I hope the jobs are secure.
I do not want to lambaste the Quinn Group. There is enough information on the public record to suggest that the group was impaired for a considerable time as a result of unwise investments in Anglo Irish Bank. I refer to the purchase of shares. I am confident that the best decision was made in the interests of the future of the company. It is in the interests of the State that the liability, in terms of the capital that will be required on an ongoing basis through the insurance fund, be reduced. The decision that was made is in the interests of employees. I understand fewer than 20 people will be made redundant in Manchester. Some 1,570 jobs in the Border counties are secure. That is a very good result. My information is that the employees are supporting that decision now. I suggest the Deputy should get behind it, rather than knocking it.