Adjournment Debate. - Limerick Unemployment.

Tuesday, 20 February 1968

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 232 No. 9

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Mr. T. O'Donnell: Information on Thomas G. O'Donnell  Zoom on Thomas G. O'Donnell  I should like to express my regret for having to deem it my duty to seek permission to raise on the Adjournment a matter which is of very urgent and vital concern to my constituency. The fact that this is the first time since I became a Member of the House that I have sought to raise a matter on the Adjournment may be taken as an indication of the gravity of the situation.

On 7th February last, I asked the Minister for Industry and Commerce, as reported at column 577:

if his attention has been drawn to the serious unemployment situation in Limerick as revealed by a recent survey conducted by the Limerick trades council; if so, whether he proposes to receive a deputation as requested by Limerick City Council to discuss the problem; and if he now considers it feasible to establish an industrial estate in Limerick.

In the course of his reply, the Minister stated:

I am aware of the unemployment situation in Limerick. The selection of development centres at which further industrial estates will be established is under consideration. A final decision in the matter must await the outcome of the series of regional planning studies at present in progress.

Until these studies are completed, I am afraid that no useful purpose would be served by my seeing a deputation.

[1493] Though the Minister stated in his reply that he was aware of an unemployment situation in Limerick, in his reply to a supplementary, he stated that while the situation did not give grounds for complacency, it was better than in the days when my Party were in office. I had stated on that occasion that I was not prepared to play politics in this matter and I do not propose to do so tonight. My purpose in raising the matter on the Adjournment is in the hope that I may be able to convince the Minister of how grave the situation is and secondly, to convince him that the only solution is to establish an industrial estate. It is most essential also that the Minister should agree to receive a deputation to discuss the situation in Limerick which is far more serious than the Minister seems to realise.

I have a report of a survey carried out in January by the Limerick Trades Council. It deals with the unemployment situation in Limerick and quotes statistics from the Central Statistics Office showing that there are 2,062 men unemployed in the city, 49 boys unemployed, 377 women and 16 girls, making a total of 2,504 people unemployed in the city. From inquiries made during the past few days, I am led to believe that the figures are higher now. The point to be gathered from these figures is that 82 per cent of those unemployed in Limerick are male adults and it is reasonable to assume that most of them are married, or at least that they are breadwinners.

The fact that there is such a high proportion of unemployed in that category makes the matter all the more serious. Further figures ascertained by the Trades Council indicates that in relation to other centres—they examined the position in Dublin, Limerick, Waterford and Galway—the figures for Limerick are out of all proportion. In Dublin, the figure for unemployed is 21 per 1000; in Waterford, it is 34 per 1,000; in Galway, 25; and in Limerick city, 43 per 1,000. During the time at my disposal tonight, I wish to deal with facts and figures. Unfortunately, the unemployment situation in Limerick has been aggravated—[1494] that is the correct word—by reason of certain things which have happened in recent years. Unfortunately, a number of old-established industries closed down. Spillane's tobacco factory closed down, disemploying 100 people; Matterson's bacon factory closed down also disemploying 100 people, 90 of them male, many of whom had long service in the industry during the past 20 or 30 years. Eight months ago, the City Tannery closed down and 40 people lost their jobs.

In addition, we have had large scale redundancies in Limerick. The Limerick Locomotive Works in the past couple of years rendered redundant many male employees who had long service, who had become highly skilled operators. In fairness in that respect, the majority of CIE employees received redundancy compensation. There has been redundancy at the Shannon Veneer Mills and at a number of other industries and notice has been served on 26 employees of a meat factory in the past week.

Faced with this situation of industries closing and of employees being made redundant, according to the report of the Trades Council, we have the further serious problem that, since the introduction of the First Programme for Economic Expansion, only three new industries are listed as having been established in Limerick city. Only one of these may be termed as a reasonably large industry—that of Krups—and it has gone from success to success and I sincerely hope it will continue to do so. It employs 320, of whom 75 per cent are female and only 25 per cent male. The point I wish to make is that, by reason of redundancies and closures and no new industries having been established, there has been unemployment growing among male workers with the result that now more than 2,000 men are unemployed in the city.

This is a serious situation which, during the past month, has been giving concern to many people. Limerick City Council have expressed concern; Limerick Trades Council have expressed concern; and during the past week the Bishop of Limerick has expressed publicly his concern.

[1495] Public representatives of all Parties have likewise expressed concern.

Going back again to the subject matter of my question, it is universally believed and accepted in Limerick that the only solution to this problem is the creation of an industrial estate in the city. This was recommended in the Litchfield Report, an economic survey of the Limerick region. We believe an industrial estate is essential in this modern age to the establishment of industry on a large scale. This has been well and truly established by the fact that industrial estates have been established in Galway and Waterford and other centres. Undoubtedly that is the modern trend. However, by reason of our close proximity to the Shannon Industrial Estate, certain problems have been created for Limerick city and we therefore submit that the only real solution is the establishment of an industrial estate in the city which would offer the same facilities and the same inducement by way of grants as at present are in operation in the Shannon Industrial Estate. We believe that it is a matter of opinion as to whether this should be independent or under the administration of the existing Shannon Development Company. It has been clearly established that an industrial estate is necessary.

I am not one of those who believe that the establishment of industries in any centre is the responsibility, and the responsibility only, of the Government. I subscribe to the view, and I always have done so, that economic development is a two-way effort. There must be local initiative, local drive, local energy, local investment, and so on and on the other side it is right to expect the Government to ensure that facilities and inducements are offered to encourage the establishment of industries and that these be fairly distributed all round.

We in Limerick have taken steps in recent months to do something about the unemployment situation in an effort to try and establish industries there. The City Council at a meeting unanimously passed a resolution requesting the Minister to receive a deputation representative of the City [1496] Council and including representatives of the citizens of Limerick who would be directly or indirectly concerned with industry — which would be the City Council, the Trades Council representing the trade unions and the Chambers of Commerce, etc. The Junior Chamber of Commerce subsequently called a meeting to which were invited representatives of all political Parties, the City Council, the Trades Council and representatives of all business and industry. At this meeting, at the Intercontinental Hotel last December, which the Minister for Education attended as well as I, it was decided to establish the Limerick Development Association somewhat on the lines of the Cork Economic Council. At a subsequent public meeting at the Savoy Cinema in Limerick, I publicly welcomed the establishment of this Limerick Development Association and pledged my fullest support to it.

I want to be put on record as having said at the Savoy that this was a step in the right direction and I expressed my confidence that the Minister for Industry and Commerce would, in fact, be prepared to meet the deputation requested. By so meeting them he would be able to guide, advise and direct the newly-formed Limerick Development Association on the lines they are now pursuing towards organising local effort and local enterprise with a view to the establishment of an industrial estate or industries in Limerick.

Unfortunately, the Minister refused to receive this deputation and he refused on the grounds which I have already outlined by quoting his reply to my question; that he did not think it would serve any useful purpose. I want to say that the Minister's refusal to meet this deputation was the last straw as far as the people of Limerick are concerned.

As I pointed out with facts and figures, we have had closures and redundancies. We have had proposals for industries which never materialised. We have suffered the frustration of seeing new industries and industrial estates going up in other centres while [1497] all the time our employment situation was growing worse and there was no breakthrough envisaged for the industrial standstill in our city.

Unfortunately, as a result of all this the efforts the newly formed Limerick Economic Development Association have been making to inspire local effort and organise local community for the purpose of trying to establish industry in Limerick have been set back badly by the refusal of the Minister to co-operate and meet a deputation. It has got to the stage where even our responsible citizens are contemplating drastic action.

I appeal to the Minister. I believe he should have received this deputation because by doing so he would have given clear proof of his desire to help in the establishment of new industries in Limerick. He would have given much-needed encouragement to the newly formed Economic Development Association and to all of us who are genuinely trying to do our best to lift our city out of the economic doldrums into which it has fallen.

Such a meeting would have created a climate of mutual understanding and goodwill which is of necessity a prerequisite for industrial development. By meeting this deputation the Minister would have learned of our difficulties in Limerick and, we on the other hand, would become aware of the difficulties which confront the Minister and I an quite sure that nothing but good would emerge from such a meeting.

Finally, by meeting this deputation the Minister would dispel the airs of despondency and gloom which have fallen over our city and would have given new hope to the 2,500 unemployed there.

In conclusion, may I express the hope that the Minister in replying will hold out some message of hope for our city. I have tried to approach the subject calmly and objectively and have avoided using the political dynamite which can so easily get sparked off by a controversey of this kind. May I assure the Minister that any step he will take will have my personal support and the support of all the people in [1498] Limerick who are earnestly striving for industrial development in our city.

Minister for Industry and Commerce (Mr. Colley): Information on George Colley  Zoom on George Colley  I have said before and repeat now that I am aware of the unemployment situation in Limerick and I do not feel that it presents any ground for complacency. I understand that the percentage of unemployed in Limerick is 7.6 of insured persons as against 6.9 per cent for the State as a whole.

On the other hand, I think we have to bear certain things in mind when we are thinking of attracting industry to any location and particularly when we are thinking of Limerick. Deputy T. O'Donnell, by implication, was saying that it is a disadvantage to Limerick to have Shannon so close because of the greater incentives at Shannon which are not available in Limerick. This may be true to some extent. On the other hand, it must surely be of considerable benefit to Limerick to have an area attracting so much employment and so near to Limerick, obviously taking workers from Limerick to work at Shannon.

Mr. T. O'Donnell: Information on Thomas G. O'Donnell  Zoom on Thomas G. O'Donnell  I fully accept that.

Mr. Colley: Information on George Colley  Zoom on George Colley  Limerick has not been neglected in that respect. Development at Shannon has helped Limerick to that extent. If we think of Limerick as based and apply the same criteria to it that we have to apply to other areas we must remember that, first of all, it is not possible for the Industrial Development Authority or the Minister for Industry and Commerce to force industries to go to particular locations. The final decision in the matter must be the decision of the promoters of the project and the people who will invest in the project.

This brings us to the question of what induces people to set up industry in one location rather than another. Obviously there are many factors involved. The type of industry in question has a bearing on the location, the kind of transport that is needed, whether there is water power available if that is needed for the particular industry. All sorts of factors operate, [1499] apart from the actual inducements that are offered in the way of grants and tax incentives.

The Industrial Development Authority has now had a good deal of experience of these various factors and last year they organised a seminar in Athlone to which they invited representatives of different associations throughout the country in order to acquaint them with what they had learned over the years regarding factors inducing industrialists to locate in certain areas. They had discussions on this. I opened the seminar and was very impressed by what I heard. I had to leave but I heard reports from different people in different parts of the country who had attended and they found this seminar extremely helpful. I cannot say positively whether there was anybody present from Limerick city on this occasion. I do not wish to cast any aspersions on anybody but I think there is some significance in what Deputy O'Donnell said, that Limerick's Development Association is now working very hard on this project but that it was founded some months ago. There is some significance in this, if one thinks of a centre of the size of Limerick and that this association was founded only some months ago when one can look around at other cities and towns—and quite small towns—and see the tremendous amount of effort that has been put in by local people into development associations, into the publication of brochures giving in very easily read form the relevant details about their areas which can be given to an industrialist coming here and to potential promoters of industry.

I do not say this produces an industry automatically but the local climate is extremely important in attracting industry. If somebody is coming from abroad, particularly, to set up an industry and is satisfied that in a particular area all the community is anxious to have an industry, to welcome it and assist it in every way possible, this can be a potent factor in attracting an industry. I do not say this would not have been so in Limerick in the past but I do say this has not been as clearly demonstrated in Limerick as in other areas. To that [1500] extent it has not helped very much to attract industry to Limerick. But I am very pleased to hear that the association has been formed and is active.

I referred to the seminar but the IDA is willing at all times to assist in the planning of a development association and give some guidance from their experience as to how this business should be undertaken. If the Limerick Development Association wish to avail of that expertise. I should be very pleased to make it available to them. I also want to say that my refusal to meet the deputation which I was asked to meet was on the grounds that I did not think any useful purpose would be served at this stage. I am very anxious, in the case of Limerick or any other area, not to create false hopes. I do not want people thinking that because they come on a deputation to the Minister for Industry and Commerce and put forward a very strong case for the attraction of industry, thereby they will get an industry. This is not the case and I do not want anybody to think it is. As I have mentioned before to Deputy O'Donnell in reply to questions, we are at present engaged on a full-scale review of our industrialisation programme. I find it difficult to put a time limit on this but I think that in the fairly near future I shall be announcing proposals in this regard which will certainly include proposals for the development of machinery for the attraction of industry to the Limerick, Ennis and surrounding regions.

I find myself in the position that, if I were to receive the deputation which I was requested to receive, I would not be able to give details of what is coming because it is not finally decided and I do not think it would really have helped the deputation. I want to make it quite clear, however, that just as soon as those proposals are announced, if the deputation wants to see me and think it can be of advantage, I shall be very pleased to meet them.

Mr. T. O'Donnell: Information on Thomas G. O'Donnell  Zoom on Thomas G. O'Donnell  I should like to thank the Minister.

The Dáil adjourned at 8.35 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 21st February, 1968.

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