Thursday, 6 May 2010
On Friday last, 30 April, the joint administrators appointed by the High Court to Quinn Insurance Limited announced that there were to be 900 voluntary redundancies at Quinn Insurance. The biggest job losses, 305, will be in the Blanchardstown office which has a staff of approximately 800. The head office in Cavan town will lose 226 jobs out of the 700 there, with 121 going in the first phase. In Enniskillen, 179 jobs will go, with 87 going in the first phase. Navan was especially badly hit, with half the workforce, 109 out of 220, going there, and 37 will go in the first phase. In Manchester, 48 out of 100 jobs will go. The redundancy terms offered to staff will include four weeks' pay per year of service on top of the usual statutory entitlements and the joint administrators state that this will result in a saving of approximately €30 million per year for Quinn Insurance.
I welcome the fact that the joint administrators have made it quite clear that Quinn Insurance has a viable future. I again call on the regulator to act with haste, to stop the drip-feed approach that has been adopted by his office and to allow Quinn Insurance to open up the commercial end of its business in the United Kingdom.
Some 95% of the workforce in Quinn Insurance are employed on this island. It is vitally important that the remaining jobs at Quinn Insurance are protected and this can only be done if the regulator allows the joint administrators to start writing commercial business in the United Kingdom. Some 55% of the total business of Quinn Insurance is in Britain and Northern Ireland and 95% of the workforce are employed in this country. I appeal to the administrators to work hard to try to convince the regulator to allow them to start writing commercial business in the United Kingdom.
I was present yesterday at a meeting between the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, and a delegation from Quinn Insurance employees. He listened to their concerns and he outlined to them his proposals for providing supports necessary to allow them return to work as quickly as possible. I welcome the fact the Minister yesterday announced the appointment of Mr. Dan Flinter as the chairman of the inter-agency team which will attempt to help those people facing redundancy through no fault of their own. The inter-agency team will co-ordinate the activities of Enterprise Ireland, FÁS, IDA Ireland, the relevant county enterprise boards, the Department of Social Protection and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation. I am pleased to report that also in attendance at the meeting in Cavan yesterday was Mr. Colm McEvoy, chief executive officer of County Cavan VEC.
I am also aware that Mr. McEvoy has put a proposal to the Department of Education and Skills to deliver level seven and level eight degree courses at Cavan Institute of Technology, in conjunction with Athlone Institute of Technology. This is part of County Cavan Vocational Education Committee's effort to respond in a meaningful way to the extraordinary situation in which the employees of Quinn Insurance find themselves, 226 of whom are facing redundancy within the next 12 months.
I am impressed with the proposals of the Minister, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, which he made yesterday. I impress upon him the need to progress these proposals with haste in an effort to facilitate the people concerned, the 900 Quinn Insurance employees, 226 of whom are in Cavan town and facing redundancy through no fault of their own. I impress upon the Minister the need for urgency in this regard.
I thank Senators Wilson and O'Reilly for raising this matter which I take on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe.
In recent weeks the Minister has been in close and regular contact with the State agencies, the Quinn Group employee representatives and local public representatives, including Senator Wilson, across the political parties. That process of intensive engagement meant the Minister could immediately activate a co-ordinated emergency Government response. He has established an inter-agency team comprising Enterprise Ireland, FÁS, IDA Ireland, the relevant county enterprise boards, the Department of Social Protection and his departmental officials. Yesterday, the Minister announced that the former chief executive of Enterprise Ireland, Mr. Dan Flinter, is to chair the inter-agency team in order the Government can put every support in place in responding to the needs of all those affected. He made the announcement following a meeting in Cavan with worker representatives of the company. Mr. Flinter's appointment is a strong signal of the importance the Government attaches to a co-ordinated and effective response to the voluntary redundancies in Quinn Insurance.
The primary focus of the inter-agency response team will be to support the affected employees to explore their options as to employment, setting up a business, education options and to outline the supports and training available to them. The first meeting of the inter-agency response team was held in Cavan on Friday, 30 April and it met again in Cavan on 5 May. With the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Smith, the Minister, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, met the joint administrators on 30 April and he met worker representatives yesterday.
Dedicated information centres staffed by the agencies are being established on-site in Cavan, Navan and Blanchardstown to support the affected workers. Staff briefing sessions will be held in Cavan, Navan and Blanchardstown to outline the supports available through Enterprise Ireland, FÁS and the county enterprise boards. A series of business start-up workshops will be run by Enterprise Ireland and the county enterprise boards in Cavan, Navan and Blanchardstown, for those thinking of starting a business.
Enterprise Ireland is in communication with Quinn Insurance regarding the most appropriate and practical measures by the agencies concerned while also ensuring continuation of normal business at the locations affected. The agency will run briefings for the affected staff on the supports it can provide. Enterprise Ireland will also hold one-to-one clinics with individuals interested in starting a business.
The county and city enterprise boards have made themselves available to liaise with those considering self-employment or establishing their own micro-enterprises. I know the boards in the Meath, Cavan and Fingal areas are working together to provide an appropriate co-ordinated response to the announcement of the job losses at Quinn Insurance. The boards will endeavour to provide every support possible for those directly affected by this unfortunate situation who wish to establish a business or who just wish to explore the possibilities of self-employment. IDA Ireland will participate in all group endeavours to minimise the impact of the recent announcement. The agency will establish the range of skills currently in the company and will actively market these skills to all potential investors. Mr. Dan Flinter will have a major role to play in this regard.
The Minister has already been in contact with his Northern Ireland counterpart, Ms Arlene Foster MLA, with regard to the drawing down of European Union funding under the cross-border INTERREG programme for training initiatives and start-up business supports in the affected areas. Officials on both sides met on 4 May and they are now working on a funding proposal which will be submitted to the INTERREG programme when the next call for proposals is made in September.
FÁS will be making direct contact with the administrators and company management to discuss the services available from FÁS and the potential needs of the employer. It is important to establish how best FÁS can assist workers. Following this initial contact, an assessment will be made in relation to the level of FÁS intervention required. The Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills has already agreed that €1 million of the special fund for activation measures will be ring-fenced to fund upskilling activities for the Quinn employees affected.
The Senators will be aware that a key element in safeguarding the long-term viability of Quinn Insurance and in protecting the remaining jobs is the re-opening of its UK business, as Senator Wilson mentioned. In this regard, the decision by the Financial Regulator to allow the remainder of the private motor insurance business to reopen from 30 April is welcome.
The administrators are working on a proposal for the reopening of commercial lines of business in the United Kingdom which they will present to the Financial Regulator within the next ten days. Before making any decision on this matter, the Financial Regulator will have to be satisfied that any proposals stand up to scrutiny and are supported by robust and detailed information, actuarial analysis and pricing. As part of this approval process the UK Financial Services Authority will also have to be satisfied with the proposals.
These are difficult and uncertain times for the employees at Quinn Insurance. I assure the Senators and the workers and communities affected that the inter-agency team established by the Minister will give every support to assist the employees who lose their jobs and to create new employment opportunities for the people affected. I thank the Senators for raising this important issue.
I reiterate that time is of the utmost importance in getting the UK insurance part of the business open as quickly as possible as so many jobs depend on it. I welcome the fact the Minister has stated his office has been in contact with Ms Arlene Foster in Northern Ireland and that discussions are at an advanced level for application to draw down INTERREG funding at the earliest date possible which is next September.
On a point of clarification, is the €1million being set aside in the labour programme activation fund in addition to the existing budget under that heading?
The Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills has already agreed that €1 million of the special fund for activation measures will be ring-fenced. It is part of the existing fund that will be ring-fenced to fund upskilling and activities for the Quinn Group employees affected. As Senator Wilson pointed out, the key will be ensuring the UK business is allowed to return to the greatest level of activity possible in order to make the business as viable as possible and retain as much employment as possible. The indication is that in the next ten days or so the regulator will be able to determine that matter in consultation with his UK colleagues.