Seanad debates

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

7:00 pm

Photo of Phil PrendergastPhil Prendergast (Labour)
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I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House. I raise a matter causing grave concern to the people of south Tipperary, namely, job losses. I am sure it is a concern to people throughout the country.

As the Minister of State is aware, Tipperary has suffered very significant job losses in the past year and unemployment has almost doubled in the past 12 months. The closure of Moy Isover and Quinn Merriott, as well as job losses at Waterford Crystal and Dell which have not yet been factored into the unemployment figures of south Tipperary, and redundancies at Bulmers, have impacted severely on my constituents in south Tipperary.

In recent weeks, we have started to hear more worrying news from Bulmers in Clonmel. Some 24 permanent staff were laid off last week and a review is taking place currently. Three men were recently appointed to the top positions at the parent company, C&C, who have been awarded a pay package in the region of €18 million, or equating to 5% of the company, which is linked to a share price. That is performance related. It is a worry when directors' pay is devised in this way, especially when the break-up and sale of C&C is mooted for the future. This leads to short term thinking where shareholders' interests are put ahead of the sustainability of the company. The companies are benefiting from lower interest rates and energy prices and are likely to do so for the foreseeable future, which is welcome.

I assume the Minister of State shares my views that any move to reduce staffing at Bulmers can only be seen as an unwarranted attempt to increase an already healthy profit base. There is no crisis and there is no cashflow issue. Bulmers is a premium Irish brand and it is very much linked to Clonmel and its economy. It has international recognition and it holds a very special place both in Irish culture and in its home area of Clonmel, and no amount of slick advertising will cover up the damage which could be done to the brand if there are unwarranted job cuts. The lack of information about the ongoing review in Bulmers is adding to the concern of workers, local businesses and families.

I would be grateful if the Minister of State could provide some clarity on this situation and the jobs issue generally by answering the following questions. Is he being kept informed of the review taking place in Bulmers in Clonmel and, if so, can he provide us with an update? As I said, it has provided major employment in the area for over 60 years. This is of major concern to south Tipperary and the south east generally because of the impact of recent announcements.

What is the Minister of State's view on the €18 million remuneration package for the directors who, I understand, are managing the review? What is his view on share price related pay packages generally? What specifically are State agencies, such as the IDA and Enterprise Ireland, doing to replace jobs lost in south Tipperary and when can we expect an announcement on investment in the area?

What specific measures are being taken to assist those who have lost their jobs in south Tipperary in terms of advice on retraining and finding a new job? Does the Minister of State accept the need for an employment task force for Tipperary which has traditionally been an unemployment blackspot and is heading that way again?

8:00 pm

Photo of Seán HaugheySeán Haughey (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Senator for raising this matter on the Adjournment. The Government and the industrial development agencies are concerned at the situation in south Tipperary and in the other areas of the country outlined by the Senator. While I am conscious of the effect that job losses have on the workers involved and their families, as well as on local communities, I assure anybody affected that the State agencies will give every support they can in order to assist workers who lose their jobs and to develop new employment opportunities in these areas.

The role of FÁS, the employment and training authority, continues to be particularly important in assisting people who lose their jobs. FÁS employment services in the south-east region have engaged with the companies mentioned in south Tipperary. The authority has provided career guidance, access to training and financial support for training to workers in the affected companies. The authority continues to provide ongoing support to employees made redundant in those companies. In addition, FÁS in the south east is providing a comprehensive package of supports for workers in Waterford Crystal, including those from south Tipperary, and is also part of the interagency response in Waterford. Similarly, FÁS mid-west is providing a comprehensive package of measures for workers in Dell and is part of the Government task force recently announced.

The strategy of IDA Ireland for south Tipperary is to concentrate future economic development in Clonmel and to develop the town as a first-class location for overseas investment. This strategy has been agreed with South Tipperary County Council. The agency is actively engaged with its existing client base in County Tipperary to encourage their transition to higher value activities with a view to increasing their embeddedness in their location within Ireland.

Currently, there are 12 IDA Ireland supported companies in south Tipperary, employing over 3,000 people. The key industry sector for south Tipperary is life sciences, which accounts for over 90% of employment. In marketing south Tipperary for new foreign direct investment, IDA Ireland is focused on attracting overseas companies in the services and knowledge-based industries, including advanced manufacturing. Recent key wins for the county have been Cordis and Alza in Cashel. In December 2008, Cordis officially opened its new state-of-the-art manufacturing facility, development laboratory and finished goods testing facility in Cashel.

To compete for investments at the highest end of the value chain, IDA Ireland has purchased 20 hectares of land in the South Tipperary County Council owned Ballingarrane Estate in Clonmel. I am confident that the future development of the Ballingarrane lands, incorporating the IDA business park and Tipperary Institute, will be a key asset in attracting foreign direct investment into south Tipperary. In addition, IDA Ireland continues to work closely with third level educational institutions in the region to ensure that the skill sets necessary to attract high value added employment to the county are being developed. The agency also maintains a close relationship with FÁS to ensure the requirements of industry, particularly in the areas of training and up-skilling, are being met.

Enterprise Ireland continues to foster job creation in south Tipperary and in the south-east region. In the past three years, Enterprise Ireland has approved funding of over €18 million and made payments of over €6 million to client companies in south Tipperary. As part of an initiative to encourage new start-ups in the region, the agency supports the enterprise platform programme — a one-year incubation programme designed to provide hands-on support and management development for entrepreneurs wanting to set up their own business — by funding eligible participants to attend. The south-east EPP for 2008-09 started in September 2008 and an additional programme will begin in September 2009. The development of community enterprise centres is a crucial part of the drive to create new regional enterprise. Enterprise Ireland has assisted in the establishment of community enterprise centres in Clonmel, Carrick-on-Suir and Tipperary Town. All of these centres are now operating successfully and have achieved occupancy rates of 80%.

Tipperary South County Enterprise Board, together with other county enterprise boards in the region — Clare, Cork north, Kerry, Limerick city, Limerick county, Tipperary north, Waterford city and Waterford county — have been working to support individuals, firms, and community groups. During 2008, Tipperary South County Enterprise Board paid out more than €240,000 in grant assistance to 26 projects. In 2008, 587 people participated in Tipperary South County Enterprise Board training and development programmes. These interventions have contributed to the development of sustainable local growth-oriented enterprises which continue to deliver high quality job creation.

I am confident that the strategies being pursued by the State development agencies, in partnership with other key players, together with the Government's ongoing commitment to regional development, will drive investment and job creation for south Tipperary generally.

Photo of Phil PrendergastPhil Prendergast (Labour)
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I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive reply to the question. I continue to be concerned about a review that is linked to share price performance and I hope the matter can be raised again should that review result in another round of significant job loss or a rise in the unemployment levels in south Tipperary. I thank the Minister of State for taking the time to come into the House and I thank the Cathaoirleach for the opportunity to raise the matter.

Photo of Seán HaugheySeán Haughey (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
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I will bring the Senator's concerns to the attention of the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.