Wednesday, 31 March 1982
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Yates: I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to raise this issue. I heard the precise alarming details last night on the news that 150 workers in the Albatros Fertiliser Company in New Ross which produces 25 per cent of all fertiliser used by farmers, is to lay off within weeks — the word used was “imminently”— 150 people. Not only that but 35 workers in Graves & Company Limited under the Dockrell Group, which is a builders providers, is to lay off 35 workers. To be honest we knew in the constituency that Albatros would lay off some workers but we did not know that it would be at this unprecedented level. We thought at most it would be 50-60 people. Between these two lay-offs, the unemployment figure in New Ross will be pushed over 1,000. This is unprecedented. The town of New Ross has a population of 5,000. This will have an extraordinary effect not only on the companies and families involved but on all the service sectors, in the shops and on many other businesses in the town which depend on the incomes of these wage earners.  The Minister can deny my figures if they are untrue but we are now talking about 20 per cent of the people being unemployed in the New Ross area. It would not be fair to say that New Ross is the only area that has this problem. I was speaking to the assistant regional director of the IDA today and the figures for each section of the county were released. The up-to-date position for the county is: Wexford town. 2,063 unemployed Enniscorthy, 1,335 unemployed and Gorey, 716 unemployed. I am glad to see Deputies Browne and Byrne present tonight. They were present with me at a public meeting in Gorey for the unemployed. The message which came across to us from that meeting was the despair and frustration of those who face the prospect of having no hope of getting a job.
Albatros employed 360 people. In a few weeks they will only employ 210 people. I am told that the reason for this is rationalisation. This brings me to my first request. The company are transferring from manufacturing to blending and are going to automatic bagging. If this is to be successful, it is essential that the IDA provide the necessary grants for this change in production and ensure that the remaining 210 jobs are safe. I am told — perhaps the Minister can add further to this — that the reason for the lay-offs is due not only to a drop in the amount of fertiliser used by farmers, which is understandably due to their income crisis, but also to the intolerable situation of American imports and dumping of fertiliser. Any request made by Albatros to any of the State agencies would be modest in view of the type of subvention NET received from this and previous Governments. At present they are requesting £37 million. I believe the request from Albatros would be in the region of £1 million. I hope they will be treated as generously as NET.
In the New Ross area the IDA own a 30-acre site. This is prime land for development for advance factories and industrial development. My second request is that this land should be serviced immediately. Money should be made available  and an advance factory to give some hope to the unemployed should be provided for. It should be of the order of 40,000 square feet. This is not an unreasonable request. The IDA have awaited sanction for this for a number of years and it is a matter of top priority in view of the pending situation.
Mr. Yates: I am bound to accept your ruling and I will, but it would be wrong of me to mention Albatros Fertilisers Limited in isolation in view of the widespread unemployment in the New Ross area. My next request to the Minister would be that, along with Wexford town and Gorey town, which the IDA allege have worse unemployment problems, New Ross town can be regarded as a disaster area and be put on the special priority list that the IDA have prepared for many counties. That would ensure that this area would then be given the type of attention I am speaking about. Also I would be most grateful if the Minister would use his good offices to influence other aspects of Government policy such as the finance that must be available from the youth employment levy and ensure that some of this money would be directed to New Ross. It would be remiss of me not to make that appeal to the Minister now.  In summing up I make a number of direct requests in regard to each of which I hope the Minister in this short debate will give me some response. I ask him to declare New Ross a priority area along with Wexford and Gorey, that he declare County Wexford a disaster area for unemployment, that the 30-acre site in New Ross be serviced and that an advance factory be sanctioned. I ask for real action with the Ross company, that the grants requested by Albatros Fertilisers Limited be forthcoming and that the rescue division of the IDA do everything possible to assist other ailing companies in this area.
In raising this matter in the House today I do not in any way wish to make it a party political issue. The concern I have is felt by the other four Deputies from County Wexford and by everybody in that county. I do not believe that the Minister and his Department can solve the unemployment problem in New Ross and in County Wexford but I would like finally the assurance that, to whatever extent money can solve the problem, that money will be forthcoming.
Mr. Browne: A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, as a former holder for a number of years of the office that you hold with such dignity at the moment, I appreciate and realise that I must keep strictly to the terms of the question before the House and that we are dealing completely with Albatros Fertilisers Limited and the loss of employment in that company. Naturally there is the temptation to roam over the whole issue of unemployment in the Wexford constituency and certainly I would like to do that. However, very briefly, I join with my colleague on the far side, Deputy Yates, and with the other Deputies for Wexford in making any appeal that we can make to the Minister here tonight to do everything in his power to try to remedy the position that has arisen in Albatros Fertilisers Limited. They are one of the major fertiliser companies in the country, probably the second largest of the four fertiliser companies that we have. They are a subsidiary of a well known Dutch fertiliser company. They have been in New Ross for  approximately 20 years and over that period they have given excellent employment in the town. Their industrial relations are probably the best of any firm not alone of their kind but of any industrial concern in this country, and I must say that I, for one, was really shocked over the past two or three days when I heard that they were about to lay off 150 of their staff. Most of the lay-offs, naturally as happens in most of those concerns, will be of unskilled workers in the firm. That figure represents a very serious lay-off. We had heard over recent weeks that Albatros Fertilisers Limited would be cutting down on their staff, that they would be laying off some 40 or 50 employees, but when the total number of lay-offs came to our attention it really was a shock to all of us. We were aware that Albatros Fertilisers Limited, like most fertiliser companies in this country and indeed in the British Isles, were in serious financial trouble over the past four years. Their losses have gone from about a couple of hundred thousand a year to half a million and I think they were close on half a million in the first two months of the present year. Albatros Fertilisers Limited naturally were faced with an impossible problem for which they had to produce some remedy.
Because of large redundancy payments, State benefits and so on, I feel that those people to be laid off there, like employees to be laid off in other companies all over the country, will not feel the full effect of the laying off for quite some time, but I am really worried about the permanent loss to the town of New Ross of 150 jobs. That is what really concerns us and is the immediate problem that arises there. The loss to a small progressive town like New Ross, perhaps one of the most progressive towns in the south-east, is very serious. I ask the Minister to discuss this matter with the IDA to see in the first instance if anything can be done to improve the position in Albatros Fertilisers Limited and to provide the necessary finance that will enable the company to restructure and improve their whole operation and possibly in the short term to take back quite a number of those people who are now being laid  off. We would look to agriculture and to the restoration of confidence in the agricultural sector to bring about a much greater purchase of fertilisers which would help this and other fertiliser firms. I have been told that the company have been in consultation with the IDA who have heard their case sympathetically and considered it. I feel that the IDA would be prepared to do anything they can to help the company.
Finally, I repeat that the permanent loss of 150 jobs in a town the size of New Ross is a very serious matter for that town. I join in the appeal that has been made by Deputy Yates to the Minister and to the IDA to do everything in their power to substitute other jobs for those now being lost and do their very best in the first instance for Albatros Fertilisers Limited and, following that, for the town of New Ross itself.
Mr. Byrne: (Wexford): I join in asking for all possible consideration for the town of New Ross because of the situation which arose yesterday. It is well known that consultants have been involved with Albatros Fertilisers Limited during the past three or four months and the writing has been on the wall. I have been in close contact with the company, and everybody, including the work force, was aware that some drastic measures were about to be taken. The decision to bring in the consultants was made during the term of the Coalition Government and it was brought to their attention that 170 jobs were at risk. We asked that jobs be provided in the area in the immediate future in order to compensate for this severe loss.
We asked that the IDA should acquire the site mentioned by Deputy Yates to build an advance factory. What has happened? That 30-acre site has been let to a local farmer and is now ploughed up for tillage. This was done during the last days of the Coalition Government. The  people of New Ross are very disappointed that no effort will be made in the near future to find jobs for these people. However, the buck rests on this side of the House now and we must encourage the Minister to provide new jobs for these 170 people. The unemployment figure in the area is now over 1,000 and in my opinion it is a disaster area. I appeal to the Minister to ensure a return to a reasonable employment position in New Ross. The workforce there are very progressive, as are the local farmers. I know he will look favourably on our appeal.
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture (Mr. L. Allen): I join my three colleagues in bringing to the Minister's attention the job losses in New Ross. During the past 18 months or two years some 500 jobs have been lost and the unemployment situation there is unprecedented.
Albatros Fertilisers Limited have enjoyed excellent labour relations. It is unfortunate that the decline in farm incomes has meant that farmers have not been buying fertilisers. We hope, however, in the months ahead to restore to Irish agriculture the confidence which has been lost. This loss of confidence is responsible to a major degree for the job losses in this company. Graves of New Ross are another farming-related company and they have let go a considerable number of men.
The Minister might ask the IDA to look at Wexford county as a whole because it now has the worst unemployment figures in its history. I would ask him to see what can be done to encourage industry in the four major towns and to consider making available the extra grants which have been given to counties in the west so that Wexford can get back on the road to progress.
Minister for Industry and Energy (Mr. Reynolds): I share the concern for people in New Ross who have been given notice of losing their jobs because I know the shock this can cause in an area where there is an unacceptably high level of unemployment. Nevertheless, it was not unexpected and the difficulties in the fertiliser  market have been well known for some time. There has been a depressed demand for compound fertilisers due to the downturn in the agricultural sector. NET in Arklow have also been affected.
The board of Albatros must be complimented for going as far as possible in their efforts to save the jobs of the total workforce. It is worth recording that their losses to 31 December last were £3 million and it was clear that they had to restructure the company. Already the IDA have had discussions with them regarding this restructuring and every aid necessary to secure the jobs of the remaining workforce will be forthcoming. The IDA are awaiting a submission from Albatros so that they can proceed with a restructuring package.
I will take up the points raised by Deputies in relation to the situation in the Wexford area generally. It is worth recording that in 1981 800 jobs were approved for County Wexford under the IDA's new industries scheme and 200 jobs were approved under the small industries scheme. While Deputy Yates may say that Wexford is a disaster area, I am happy to tell him that action is being taken in the area. The situation in that area was gloomy when his party were on this side of the House. I know that Deputy Yates is reasonable in this respect, as are the other three Deputies who spoke.
He mentioned the youth employment subsidy scheme. Certainly it will be looked at in relation to Albatros, but the fundamental problems of the company must also be considered in the restructuring process. We have a situation of decreasing demand and pressure from imports, and even before my period in office the Department were monitoring the import of fertilisers. We cannot take any action in regard to the import of fertilisers from countries within the EEC. Imports have also come from Sweden which is outside the EEC but they, too, have a special arrangement under EFTA rules and there is nothing much we can do in that situation. The Swedish imports were inspected to see if they were below quality or if there was any way in which  we could complain. Unfortunately, efforts there were not successful.
Deputy Yates referred to dumping of fertilisers and asked what action can be taken. Under the EEC rules if there is dumping and the industry can establish that it is taking place from America or anywhere else it is a matter for the industry to make the case in Brussels under the anti-dumping regulations. We will assist them in that, but primarily it must come from the industry.
There is considerable scope here, with the upturn in agriculture which we hope will come in the near future, for fertiliser production here. Deputy Yates and the other Deputies will appreciate that a very small amount of fertiliser is being spread in recent years. I saw reference made to imports and I want to record for the information of everybody here that imports as a percentage of the total sales of fertilisers have dropped from 18.2 per cent in 1977-78. There is a declining market and there is a reduction in the percentage of imported fertilisers. That is not relevant, but commentators have referred to it.
The Deputies can take it from me that the IDA will be very active in that area and will intensify their efforts. We will be looking at the 40,000 square feet factory proposition. I heard Deputy Byrne say that this land has already been let. If that is the case we will not be in a position to go in on it as quickly as Deputy Yates suggested. Planning permission could be applied for as soon as the people who have the land leave it.
I am very conscious of the need for employment in the New Ross area. There is a buyer coming to New Ross to look at the shipyard there. I hope the workers will be sensible and not try to take any action during his visit which might turn him away, as happened in the past. Jobs are needed. We want to preserve existing jobs. Every effort will be made for New Ross and County Wexford if everybody adopts a sensible attitude.
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