Seanad debates

Thursday, 20 May 2010

1:00 pm

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Chair for allowing me raise this matter. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Calleary. The matter I raise is not just about the announcement by Pfizer this week of job losses in Cork. Over a period it has let go a substantial number of employees in Cork and throughout Ireland on a phased basis. The latest announcement is a devastating blow to the Cork region, particularly to the harbour area of Ringaskiddy and Shanbally. It is a major concern that Cork is now dependent on the farm industry sector. The jobs lost are high-end, high-skilled well paid jobs. It is extraordinary that in this 21st century we are allowing these jobs be lost and allowing the workers from Pfizer to join the lengthening dole queues.

All politics is local, but this is not about politics. It is about local people. In the area of Cork City and Carrigaline there are some 22,000 people on the live register, 4,100 of whom are under the age of 25 — an extraordinary figure. We can add to these another 21,000 in Cork, which gives us a total unemployment figure of 43,000. The Government needs to take action. I understand the Minister, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, has said that the current job losses are part of the global restructuring of Pfizer, but it is more than that. We need action now, rather than hyperbole or spin from politicians and Government. I hope the response from the Minister of State will inform us of what the Government, the State agencies and the IDA intend to do to attract companies to the Cork area. I hope we will hear of the Government's plan to sell the two Pfizer plants as a going concern. I also hope to hear what the Government has to say to the highly skilled workers to give them hope they will not have to go abroad to work.

The Minister of State is involved in the public sector and is well aware of the importance and value of a job. It is imperative that as a Government and a nation we start to protect and create jobs. Pfizer has withdrawn for a number of reasons, but some of those reasons are the issue of competitiveness and the cost of doing business here. Our ratings have slipped in a number of these areas and this is a concern. I hope we can stem future job losses. I note the Minister has spoken to the IDA and I hope we will hear now what is happening with regard to exploring the possibility of bringing in other major industrialists to Cork in the scientific and pharma areas.

The multinational sector has been pivotal in our economic growth because of the measures we took in the past. This area must not be lost and forgotten now. What priority has the Government for the Cork area with regard to foreign direct investment? There is significant access in the north east now, with Dublin and Belfast seen as hubs by the Government. However, what is the future for Cork, the capital of the southern region and its gateway? It seems to have been lost in Government thinking. I look forward to hearing the Minister of State's reply on this major blow to the southern area. It is not just about Pfizer, but also about small and medium enterprises which have lost jobs.

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Minister of State with special responsibility for Public Service Transformation and Labour Affairs, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Finance; Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Senator for raising this matter and hope to deal with his specific concerns in my response.

Pfizer's overall plan to cut its workforce worldwide by 6,000 on 14 sites in the next four years is aimed at integrating the Pfizer and Wyeth manufacturing and supply organisations which, following the Pfizer takeover of Wyeth late last year, now have significant overcapacity. That is the main reason for its decision.

The Minister has asked the State agencies to do everything possible to provide training and re-employment services for the 275 workers losing their jobs in Newbridge, County Kildare, and to work with Pfizer to save the other 510 jobs at risk owing to the planned future sale or closure of plants in Cork and Dublin. Pfizer is still a major multinational employer here, with over 4,200 workers, at seven locations, involved in the manufacture of high-end life science products for world markets.

Any potential impact on jobs in Loughbeg and Shanbally will occur from 2012 to 2014. However, the IDA is confident that a buyer will be found for at least some of these facilities and is working closely with Pfizer to achieve this. Both the IDA and Pfizer have been successful in the past, with the sale of Pfizer's animal health plant in Sligo and its Loughbeg API plant and at both locations jobs were preserved.

Pfizer is planning further capital investments and new positions in its biotechnology operations in Ireland. The Government will do all it can to support the company's growth plans.

Cork is definitely not lost in terms of our enterprise strategy but is very much at its centre. In the past ten years direct employment in IDA supported companies in Cork city and county has grown from just under 16,000 in 1999 to 20,000 today. Since 2006 IDA Ireland has approved company projects in Cork, with the potential to create over 4,222 jobs at full operation. Recent announcements of new investments in Cork include Big Fish Games in Mahon, Hovione in Ringaskiddy, Solarwinds in Mahon, Apex Fund Services in Midleton and Marriott International in Blackpool. These projects, in addition to local projects funded through locally-based enterprise agencies, will significantly add to the value and depth of industry in Cork.

Cork has grown in the past decade into a globally recognised location for foreign direct investment, attracting several billion euro in investment by overseas companies. This has been achieved through record investment in infrastructure across road, rail, air, seaports and telecommunications; growth and expansion at UCC, the Tyndall National Institute and Cork Institute of Technology, particularly focusing on the area of research and development; and the emergence of a cosmopolitan and well educated workforce attracted to Cork by the excellent quality of life which the Senator mentioned.

In addition to attracting new foreign direct investment, the IDA continues to work closely with its existing clients in Cork to encourage the expansion of their operations. The success of this is demonstrated by the recent expansion of several companies in the county, including McAfee, Blizzard, Gilead, Boston Scientific, Trend Micro, Alps Electric, EMC, Siemens, DePuy, Arris and Alcon. Enterprise Ireland and the county and city enterprise boards are providing support for indigenous Irish business. Since 2008 Enterprise Ireland has approved €50 million to client companies in Cork city and county. It has a client base of over 700 companies in County Cork employing about 18,000 people.

The effectiveness of the agencies in job creation must also take into account the indirect effects of their activities, to which the Senator referred. It is generally estimated that the jobs directly created result in approximately the same number of jobs being generated in the local economy. Our priority is to ensure the business environment is supportive of Irish enterprise and export growth and that we continue to attract high value foreign investment. By selling on international markets, we will create jobs and prosperity at home.

Our thoughts are with the workers affected by the Pfizer announcement and their families and on the decisions they must make. They are our priority in providing support and opportunities for them at this time and working to ensure their skills will be made available to other employers as soon as possible.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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The Minister of State ignored the high-end job losses experienced in Cork and the rate of unemployment among under 25-year-olds, which stands at over 4,000. Will he ask the Minister to make it a priority that the IDA work with the agencies in the Cork area and the south to ensure Cork is prioritised, as it is losing out?

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Minister of State with special responsibility for Public Service Transformation and Labour Affairs, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Finance; Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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The Senator should know that the Minister, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, will ensure Cork is seen as a very important priority in the weeks to come.