Seanad debates

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

2:30 pm

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, to the House.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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I, too, welcome the Minister and thank him for coming to the Seanad to discuss this important issue.

As Members will be aware, on Thursday, 25 June 2015, Liberty Insurance announced it would make 270 workers redundant, 135 in Blanchardstown, 115 in my home town of Cavan and 20 in Enniskillen. These redundancies are in addition to 285 job losses in the company in November 2012. Liberty Insurance, formerly known as Quinn Insurance, has been an important and major employer in Cavan town since its operations commenced in the mid-1990s. The sale of Quinn Insurance to Liberty Insurance was concluded in October 2011 when, I understand, the latter purchased 51% of the former for €1.While I understand there were some debts involved, in common with the people of County Cavan and surrounding counties, I still believe that Liberty Insurance got a good deal on that occasion and that it has an obligation to maintain jobs in that area of the country, as well as in Blanchardstown and Enniskillen. In a statement issued last Thursday, my colleague, Deputy Brendan Smith, called on the Minister to engage immediately with Liberty Insurance with a view to retaining the maximum level of employment in this company and I join him in that call. He also stated clearly that when Liberty Insurance purchased the former Quinn Insurance in October 2011, at that time the company stated it would maintain more than 1,000 people in employment in the three areas. At that time, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, stated with regard to the sale of Quinn Insurance that he welcomed the positives of the proposed agreement in that almost all of the 1,500 jobs in Quinn Insurance would be retained. That figure speaks for itself when one now is talking about 950 jobs in the three locations. The company has stated the redundancies will take place over an 18-month period but I understand it has given employees two weeks in which to make life-changing decisions without providing the necessary advice and support to them to make such decisions. The staff were told that assistance will be provided once the voluntary process was complete but that is not acceptable. Once the process is complete will be too late to offer advice and assistance to these workers, as they need assistance now.

Although the company has offered voluntary redundancy, people have concerns that by accepting it, they will make wrong decisions that could have an impact on their social welfare and mortgage protection entitlements. Moreover, in the case of up to 40 workers who work as claims staff in the Cavan office, the decision really already has been taken out of their hands because their roles are being relocated to Blanchardstown. This decision makes absolutely no sense, given the collective experience of these people and that new people must be trained for these roles should the staff in County Cavan not relocate. Moreover, I understand the vast majority of them are not in a position to so do. I understand that the decision to move these claims jobs was made by the new head of claims, as he believes all claims staff should be based in the Dublin office and yet there is a mix of staff from other areas throughout all the sites.

Unfortunately, this company has been through this process before. The same human resources team and many of the senior management team are in place and yet the current process is flawed with no empathy or concern being shown for the employees. Liberty Insurance purchased the remaining 49% of the former Quinn Insurance in December 2013 and now has 100% ownership of this company. I ask the Minister to use his good offices to try to maintain the jobs in these three centres. I am particularly concerned with regard to the site in Cavan, which is the one I know best, but people in Enniskillen and Dublin also depend on this company for their jobs. Morale is at an all-time low in these three offices and the big fear is that Liberty Insurance is preparing to downsize, move jobs elsewhere and eventually to sell off the Irish operation. This is not good enough and if these jobs cannot be saved, I ask that the Minister have the statutory agencies to work with these workers as a matter of urgency.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Minister, Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation; Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Senator for raising this matter. Our sympathies are most definitely with the workers in Cavan, Blanchardstown and Enniskillen at this very difficult time.

This is a very disappointing development. The Senator has outlined what will be the impact in the three locations, namely: 135 job losses in Blanchardstown; 115 in Cavan; and 20 in Enniskillen. The company has given the reasons behind its decision to withdraw from the British market and to make significant changes to its operations in Ireland. It has experienced a difficult trading period and is now going to focus on the Republic of Ireland market. I do not believe it is fair to say that the company is preparing for an exit. That is by no means an accurate reflection. I am encouraged by the company's statement to the effect that it is fully committed to Ireland, that it will be seeking voluntary redundancies in the first instance and that the process in this regard will be phased over an 18-month period. That is encouraging and I hope that when it is offering terms to workers, the company will recognise the contribution they have made over a long period by offering them a good package. On the positive side, Liberty has confirmed that it is continuing with its IT initiative, which was the basis for the announcement of the creation 150 jobs in 2013. This initiative is located at the Blanchardstown office and it shows that the company continues to be committed to Ireland. We will ensure that the relevant agencies work closely with Liberty in order to see to it that any future opportunities relating to the company can be maximised as it evolves.

My immediate focus rests on the instruction I issued to IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland to redouble their efforts in respect of job creation in County Cavan and to explore all options in the context of replacing the jobs that have been lost there. The past couple of years in Cavan-Monaghan have been good. It is particularly encouraging to see the very strong performance of a number of Irish-owned companies in recent times and quite a number of them across the two counties, including Lakelands, Combilift, Glanbia, Swift and Lagan Brick, have expanded their operations. It is encouraging that in 2014 the IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland job base grew by 9% and that there was an 11% increase in the number of jobs created by means of the local enterprise office, LEO, network. We are enjoying some successes and I am currently developing a regional enterprise strategy. The latter will be for every region but it will have particular focus on the Border region, which has a number of significant strengths upon which we hope to build.

If the employees of Liberty require the assistance of the National Employment Rights Authority, NERA, or other State agencies, in dealing with their current circumstances or making particular decisions, I will be quite happy ensure that it is made available to them. I recognise that this is a difficult time for the people involved. I will ensure that we redouble our efforts. We have witnessed the potential of enterprise in the region and we need to build on that in order to try to replace lost jobs and ensure that opportunities emerge for those people who have been so badly impacted upon by this decision.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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When 285 redundancies occurred in 2012, the statutory agencies worked very well with the employees involved.I would like the Minister to give a commitment - I acknowledge that he alluded to this in his reply - that the same emphasis will be placed on these people who will potentially lose their jobs in all three centres.

I am most familiar with the Cavan centre. While it is unfortunate that jobs were lost a few years ago, which should not have been the case, following a commitment by the company to retain them, assistance was provided by the statutory agencies, including the Cavan and Monaghan education and training boards, the Minister's Department and various other Departments. I would like him to give a commitment that he will co-ordinate a similar approach as a matter of urgency. I reiterate that the spin on this is that the redundancies will take place over 18 months, but workers have been given 14 days to make a life-changing decision for themselves and their families. These decisions will also affect the communities they live in. In 2012, when there were 285 redundancies, Liberty Insurance issued a statement saying, "This development is necessary to secure the future of the company." However, last Thursday, there was an announcement that 270 jobs would be lost, and the president of Liberty International issued a statement saying, "Liberty Mutual remains fully committed to building a successful business in Ireland." If 270 redundancies on top of 285 redundancies on top of 150 redundancies equates to "building a successful business in Ireland", then there will be serious concerns for the remaining workers down the line.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Minister, Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation; Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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I am happy to give the Senator a guarantee that the resources of the State, through my own Department, NERA, the Department of Social Protection and the education and training boards, will be available to workers. The company is in a 30-day consultation period and it has obligations during that period to consult its workers. I do not propose to comment on those consultations but, obviously, the resources of the State, such as the Labour Relations Commission, will be available to assist if there are issues on which advice could be given.

This is a difficult reminder of the challenging competitive environment in which every industry operates. There will always be reverses, and one cannot put one's hand on one's heart and say about any sector that there never will be a challenge and everything will be perfect. There will always be change, and the difficulty is that the changes that have occurred in the UK insurance market have caused difficulties for this company. It is a battle every day in respect of our approach to supporting companies that are facing threats while also supporting companies that are considering opportunities. It is positive that in Cavan and, indeed, in the country as a whole, we are winning more of those battles than we are losing. A total of 105,000 additional people are at work since we commenced the Action Plan for Jobs in 2012, with approximately 19,000 of those in the Border region. More companies are expanding than are getting into difficulty.

However, this is a timely reminder that we have to always be vigilant and make sure that we make the changes and create the competitive environment in all our areas of endeavour to support growth, because there are always challenges around the corner. I thank the Senator for raising this issue and I assure him that I will talk to the agencies to ensure timely support is available for the people affected.