Wednesday, 11 June 1975
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Connolly: asked the Minister for Industry and Commerce if he is aware of the further redundancies that are about to take place in a firm (name supplied) in County Offaly, which will result in the loss of 100 jobs; and if he has any proposals under consideration to protect this industry from foreign trading difficulties.
Mr. Keating: I regret that the firm, to which the Deputy refers, have found it necessary recently to issue redundancy notices to nearly 100 of their workers. These redundancies are, I understand, largely due to a falling off in orders for one of their principal products on the home market.
I have indicated previously, in reply to similar questions, and I would refer the Deputy particularly to columns 519 and 2111 of the Dáil Debates of 16th January and 15th May, 1975 respectively, the action which is being taken, within the constraints imposed by our international treaty obligations, to help certain sensitive sectors of industry including textiles. This firm would benefit from the results of this action.
Mr. Connolly: Is the Minister aware that the company called a recent Press conference at which it was stated that if imports were not curtailed or completely shut out the company would have to close? Is he also aware that the closing of the Blarney Mills in Cork had an adverse effect on them as they used to supply these mills?
Mr. Keating: I am aware of various statements calling for the complete shutting out of imports but I have made it clear that while we have, in regard to all the possible headings, done a large number of things to protect the textile industry and various  sectors of it, the hope of total exclusion of imports is vain. It is not in our power without breaching the Treaty of Accession to the Community in a way that would provoke an instant retaliation from the Community. It is simply not in our power to do that within the terms of the Accession Treaty. The powers of retaliation of the Community, through the court and in other ways, are very substantial and where other countries have tried to do these things, they have used these powers promptly, so that the thought of the whole gamut from grants to loans to export promotion, help with design, management advice through the NDC—all of those things and the more recent things we have done such as surveillance and tightening up by the Revenue Commissioners are available to help the firm but to say that we could shut out competing imports is to raise a vain hope.
Mr. J. O'Leary: Is the Minister not aware that his primary duty as Minister is to protect the jobs of workers and employees and to cope with any retaliatory methods by the EEC countries as he meets them afterwards?
Mr. Keating: I can go into this in detail if Deputies wish it, but in relation to the firm in question or to any other exporting firm, the counselling of a course of action which would provoke retaliation which could be dealt with, as the Deputy suggested, as it arises is mistaken. There is only one country in the Community more  dependent on foreign trade than we are, that is Belgium which has a much stronger economy, and to provoke an avalanche of protective measures on the part of adjoining countries to which we export would really—I know the Deputy does not wish it nor does any Deputy—inflict much greater harm on industry and employment than to proceed with the mechanisms. I am not any more satisfied with them than other Deputies but they are the only course open to us and recourse to violation of the Treaty and the provocation of retaliation would produce a much worse end result and a much greater threat to employment.
Mr. Keating: I agree, but the Deputy should be aware that the 16 countries of the so-called low-cost quota area which includes the Far East low-cost producers, do not include Korea, with which we have made a separate arrangement. But they include the others. There are two things: first, there is the continuation of the quota order restricting imports to £100,000 per annum which, in terms of our total production, is very small, and, secondly, we have restructured the permission given under that £100,000 quota to admit only things which complement and do not complete with our own production. In regard to them we are doing something, and in regard to South Korea, which is not included in the low-cost quotas, we were the first, and we are still the only country to have obtained special arrangements through the Community for our restriction which has brought down, in the period since February when we invoked it, the import, for example, of South Korean shirts—woven shirts—to a total of 3,000 dozen, a little over 30,000 shirts which in terms of total production and consumption is very small. In the areas  where action is possible we have acted in those two specific ways.
Mr. Connolly: Is the Minister aware that the company stated that if they did not receive immediate help they would have to close with a loss of 380 jobs? In reference to the Minister's reply it was only after constant pressure from us on this side of the House that he decided to take action of the nature which we in Private Members' Time requested last December. He left it until now and the onus is on him and on the Government for the situation. It is shameful that the Minister and the Government carried on in that way.
Mr. Connolly: asked the Minister for Industry and Commerce the steps he intends to take to provide employment in Banagher, County Offaly, in view of the recent closure of a firm (name supplied), now in the hands of a receiver, which resulted in the loss of 110 jobs; if there are any new negotiations in train for the take-over of this factory; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Mr. Keating: I am informed by the Industrial Development Authority that following the advertising of the business for sale by the receiver, the authority has put a number of interested parties in touch with him.
With regard to the general question of industrial development the Industrial Development Authority is promoting Offaly vigorously and is using its flexible grant powers within existing statutory limits to achieve this. In the case of Banagher the authority in conjunction with the local authority is at present endeavouring to purchase a suitable site for industry.
Mr. Keating: I indicated in my reply that a number of companies have shown interest. While the names of the companies are confidential, I can indicate that I have in my brief the names of six companies who have made an approach and that other inquiries have been made through financial institutions. There is a substantial volume of inquiry in regard to that factory. I would prefer to seek a solution by means of a take-over by another viable concern rather than pursue direct intervention, although I do not rule out the latter. When there are good inquiries it is better to leave the matter alone and hope that some of these other firms will take over this factory and continue it.
Mr. Keating: There are six that are named and there are indications of other inquiries received, but I think that to hold out hopes and subsequently have them dashed is psychologically worse than to indicate —which is the truth—that I am not certain that any of them will take it over. The substantial volume of real inquiry is encouraging, and more than that I cannot say.
Mr. Keating: I cannot give the Deputy details of that but he can be assured that all the help of what I might call the rescue services of the State—the IDA and other agencies— will be made available to ensure that there is no impossible burden handed on with the plant and staff. I cannot give details because I am not party to them. The Deputy will be aware that there is a receiver in and that he has a very clearly defined legal position and legal rights, and while the State can encourage and help, his rights are clearly defined, and his duties to the people to whom money is owed. I cannot say more.
Mr. Callanan: I believe that this factory involves more than putting a big number of people out of employment in my constituency and in Offaly, and that it also involves the slowing up of a housing drive in which they were concerned. It is very important that the factory be taken over and that the commitments the factory had entered into would be fulfilled by the company taking over the factory. It is very serious for my county where big commitments were made in the housing area.
Mr. Keating: I share the Deputy's concern. I have met a delegation from the factory and from Banagher some time ago, and the Deputy may be assured of all the assistance it is possible to give through the agencies at my disposal.
Mr. Lalor: Could the Minister confirm that the parties that are possibly interested are all Irish firms? Can he give us an assurance on behalf of the IDA that even if the best prospect is not realised there could be some arrangement whereby the IDA would hold on to the factory and not have it sold off in bits and pieces?
Mr. Keating: They are all Irish firms and firms of which I would already have known about; they are substantial firms. As regards the final outcome I cannot add to what I have said. I cannot give the absolute kind of guarantee the Deputy would wish, but he can be assured that both IDA and Fóir Teoranta are monitoring this situation for reasons mentioned by various Deputies and, above all, because it is in a town where it is the only substantial employer, a fact which gives great strength to their arguments. We will do everything we can but I cannot give an absolute guarantee the Deputy may wish to get; I do not think I have the legal power to do so.
Mr. Enright: Would the Minister be in a position to confirm that the six firms he has mentioned are of a similar type of business as that formerly carried on by Banagher Tiles and in the event of the firm being taken over, would it be possible that the skills and techniques of those previously employed in this industry will be utilised?
Mr. Keating: It would not help if I were to give the names of the firms but I am very anxious, as are the IDA and Fóir Teoranta, that skills and techniques that have been built up in the Banagher work force should be continued. They are useful and necessary, and that is the intention behind the efforts being made.
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