Seanad debates

Tuesday, 11 March 2003

Adjournment Matters. - Company Closures.


2:30 pm

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State. There was a deep sense of shock in Tipperary town last Thursday afternoon when the workforce, and then the population at large, were informed that in the principal factory in the town 150 out of 230 people would lose their jobs between the end of May and October. Pall Corporation was a replacement industry for Tambrands, which closed some years ago.

This announcement came completely out of the blue, particularly as only a few months ago there were discussions about expanding the plant rather than reducing it. It has been acknowledged by everyone concerned that the workforce is excellent. There were no complaints of any kind about the quality of what was produced. One part of the plant produces medical filters while the other part produces industrial filters.

The Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, visited the town on Thursday before the meeting took place. However, he was alerted that something was happening and he took the trouble to talk to IDA Ireland about the problem, both when he arrived and before he left. The decision was taken by the company headquarters in New York, without awareness of the devastating consequences for the people of the town. I have heard the decision described as shameful.

The industrial filter section of the plant is being retained and I hope Pall will consider adding some other line, if it is not possible for it to restore the line it has shifted to Mexico and Puerto Rico. I note the announcement today in Waterford that a software plant is to be shifted to India. It is perhaps a sign of some of the dangers we face. Nonetheless, industries need access to the European market and Ireland still has one of the most competitive bases, both in terms of taxation and costs.

IDA Ireland and the Government have had some success in getting replacements relatively swiftly for towns like Roscrea and, some years ago, Clonmel. Part of the south-east region, particularly Tipperary, is concentrating on health and pharmaceutical plants. It has emphasised the pressing need, although it is not strictly relevant to this issue, for the town to benefit from decentralisation. Obviously different people will be involved in that.

Tipperary is a town of tremendous potential which, unfortunately, has not yet been realised. It has excellent sporting, cultural and artistic facilities, but assistance is needed from the Government and IDA Ireland to promote the town. I detect in the reaction since this announcement that Tipperary is now a high priority in terms of completing an advance factory, finding somebody to fill the now mainly empty Pall work plant, refurbishing the industrial park and finding a use for the Namco plant. There is certainly plenty of space for a company to occupy.

Tipperary is one of the best towns in the country in terms of self-help. I could refer, for example, to the West Tipperary Enterprise Group – which is located in the Station House – the new technology park, the Excel heritage centre, the Canon Hayes sports centre, the Knockarawley resource centre and Tipperary Community Radio. There are many examples and they are mostly supported by voluntary community effort, often with some difficulty.

A delegation made up of councillors and public representatives is hoping to meet Pall representatives in New York next week. The Tánaiste has been asked to meet a deputation and no doubt she will make contact as advised by IDA Ireland. Obviously, by one means or another, replacement employment is needed as quickly as possible and before the 150 people lose their jobs.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senator Mansergh for raising this matter on the Adjournment.

The Tánaiste learned with grave disappointment of the recent decision by Pall to close its medical filter manufacturing operation in Tipperary with the loss of 155 jobs. The Tánaiste understands that the parent company has made a decision to transfer this line to Puerto Rico. The company currently employs a total of 230 people in the manufacture of medical and industrial filters in Tipperary town. While these job losses are regrettable, the Tánaiste is heartened that the remaining 75 people involved in the manufacture of industrial filters will continue in employment in Tipperary.

The decision to cease the manufacture of the medical filters results from over capacity in the market place. The manufacture of medical filters will transfer to Puerto Rico, where Pall Corporation has an existing facility which is three times the size of the Irish plant.

FÁS has already been in contact with company representatives to discuss a detailed programme to assist those who are being made redundant to find suitable alternative employment. FÁS has offered to make available its full range of support services including skills analysis, jobs placement, guidance and counselling interviews, identification of training needs and suitable training courses. FÁS will also ensure ongoing support and action to keep redundant workers in touch with the labour market.

In addition, Enterprise Ireland's south east region office, in association with the management of the Tipperary Enterprise and Technology Centre and Tipperary South Riding County Enterprise Board, is currently planning a clinic for the staff of Pall who wish to consider self-employment. The resources of all three bodies will be used, as appropriate, to give assistance to those employees who wish to set up their own enterprise.

In regard to positive developments in south Tipperary, the Tánaiste understands that the ALZA Corporation is currently building a 60,000 square feet facility in the IDA Ireland business park in Cashel. Scheduled to open later this year, the facility will manufacture patch technology products. Current employment is 22, but this is expected to grow to 100 employees at production stage. Total investment in the project is expected to be €162 million.

South Tipperary has a good range of foreign direct investment companies in the growing pharmaceutical and health care sectors. IDA Ireland will continue to promote Tipperary to potential investors, and the agency will also develop its business park in Tipperary town as an additional attraction. Planning permission has recently been secured to carry out an upgrade of the park by improving the entrance road and landscaping the site. An advance technology building of 16,000 sq. ft. will be built on the park this year. Additionally in the town, the former Namco building of 60,000 sq. ft. is available and being actively marketed by the agency.

IDA Ireland will focus on the growth sectors of international services, healthcare and pharmaceuticals. In addition, the information and communications sector is likely to have potential for the county in the medium and longer term. The IDA will work with existing clients in the county to encourage further new expansion activities. In the case of Pall, the company has indicated it is willing to be flexible in relation to future use of its building. This could free up an additional 170,000 sq ft of space, including 20,000 sq ft of clean room space, which can then be marketed to a new healthcare investor.

The Tipperary Enterprise and Technology Centre is now fully operational and nine micro-enterprises have set up to date. It is hoped a number of new enterprises will commence in the centre in the near future. In terms of increasing County Tipperary's attractiveness as a location for investment, the County Tipperary institute is currently operating two campuses, one in Clonmel with 300 students and the other in Thurles with 500 students. The Clonmel campus commenced courses in 2000 and is expecting the first graduate output in 2003. It is hoped to develop the institute's range of courses to take on more business and science students.

The State development agencies under the aegis of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment are fully committed to the promotion of employment creation in south Tipperary, including Tipperary town. The agencies work closely with each other and the development bodies in the area, as well as other local bodies and interests in facilitating an integrated approach to enterprise development in south Tipperary.