Adjournment Debate - Job Protection.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 665 No. 4

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Acting Chairman (Deputy Charlie O’Connor): Information on Charlie O'Connor  Zoom on Charlie O'Connor  I note that Deputies O’Donnell and Noonan are sharing time.

Deputy Michael Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan  Zoom on Michael Noonan  Do we each have five minutes?

Acting Chairman: Information on Charlie O'Connor  Zoom on Charlie O'Connor  Yes, five minutes each and the Minister of State has ten minutes to reply.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell  Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell  I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this extremely important matter for Limerick. When I raised it previously on the Adjournment on 8 October the reply I was given was extremely unsatisfactory. I got a four-page reply, only one paragraph of which dealt with Dell, while the question I raised specifically related to Dell. The reply effectively stated that the IDA had been in contact with Dell and that the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment had been kept informed. Subsequently she met Dell management. She has yet to say what was discussed. We need to be told exactly what was discussed. We understand from Dell that it is currently carrying out a global review of its operations with no specific date as to when it will be concluded. It is imperative that the Tánaiste and Minister responsible, Deputy Coughlan, should become proactive on this issue. I understand that she is involved in an IDA promotion tour in the United States. I expect she will make a point of calling to see the head of Dell, Mr. Michael Dell, to discuss the future of the company in Limerick.

During the past week Dell has laid off 450 to 500 contract temporary staff. This has caused extreme anxiety for those people and their families. Furthermore, it has created an enormous degree of uncertainty about the future of Dell and the job security of its 3,000 permanent staff. The Government has a duty here and it should have been proactive in this respect.

I raised this matter initially when I wrote to the Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen, on 12 September asking him to intervene to deal with the multinational sector, including Dell, to see what could be done. I did not receive a reply until 25 September, some two weeks later, indicating that [860]the matter had been passed to the Tánaiste, Deputy Coughlan, from whom I have yet to receive a response. This is grossly unacceptable to the workforce in Dell and to the people of Limerick. There appears to be a veil of silence on the part of the Government about Dell.

A statement must be made tonight on behalf of the Tánaiste confirming that the Government is doing absolutely everything to ensure that Dell continues to provide the employment in Limerick. It contributes more than 4% of expenditure to the Irish economy and 5% to GDP. The Government has let down Limerick and the employees of Dell. We have had savage cuts, a lack of connectivity, the lost of the landing slots at Heathrow, a diminishing number of transatlantic flights and the imposition of a €10 charge on flights from Shannon. No funding was provided in the budget, nor was any gateway funding provided, for the Limerick regeneration project.

I call on the Tánaiste as a matter of urgency to establish a taskforce in Limerick to deal with the growing level of unemployment. More than 9,000 people are on the live register in Limerick city alone, which represents an increase of 50% and is well above the national average. Such a taskforce should deal with creating employment and retraining. Integral to that, it should seek to provide funding for the Limerick regeneration project for the communities of Moyross, St. Mary’s Park, Southill and Ballinacurra-Weston. The overall message is that we need answers about what the Government is doing to ensure that Dell remains in Limerick and continues to be a fantastic employer for the more than 3,000 people it employs there. The Government needs to provide incentives and to ensure that Dell remains in Limerick.

Deputy Michael Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan  Zoom on Michael Noonan  I wish to share my time with Deputy O’Sullivan.

Acting Chairman: Information on Charlie O'Connor  Zoom on Charlie O'Connor  That is agreed.

Deputy Michael Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan  Zoom on Michael Noonan  People in Limerick are very concerned about the future of Dell and the future of the companies that supply it, many of which have Dell as their sole customer. Naturally, employees in Dell and in the other companies to which I referred are the most concerned. The announcement last week that up to 500 contract workers were being let go has heightened the level of concern. An announcement was also made last week that Flextronics was letting 100 staff go. It subsupplies Dell, which is its only customer. Today, Banta let go 68 staff. It subsupplies Dell, its only customer. This is causing major concern.

Contract workers in Dell are let go every year as production schedules are adjusted, usually on a quarterly basis, but more workers than usual have been let go this year. This is not surprising, given the lack of confidence internationally. I do not want to make little of contract workers being let go; they are suffering and so are their families. My primary concern is the future of the Dell against the background of the worldwide review of its operations currently being undertaken, as announced by the company earlier this year.

Dell has made an enormous contribution to Limerick and there is high confidence locally not only in its products but in its management both locally and internationally. There is no similar confidence in the Tánaiste who is responsible as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, nor is there confidence in the IDA which has failed to give any assurances either to the local community or to the workers in Limerick.

The position is difficult for everyone and scaremongering will only make things worse. In the Minister of State’s reply, I hope he can begin to restore some of the confidence that his senior Minister, the Tánaiste, has failed to restore up to now.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan  Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan  I sincerely thank Deputy Noonan for sharing his time and allowing me to put on record my position on this issue which I have raised previously.

[861]As the Minister of State is aware, there is serious concern about Dell. It employs more than 3,000 permanent full-time workers, as well as temporary workers who are taken on and let go in the plant. The number of temporary workers laid off last week is far in excess of the norm in terms of the seasonal layoffs in Dell. As Deputy Noonan said, both Flextronics and Banta, which supply Dell, have announced that they are also letting people go. Many other companies in the region are dependent on Dell, either feeding into or out of the factory, as well as the wider economy in terms of the spending power of people employed in the company.

We know that Dell is undertaking a worldwide re-evaluation of its work. It is vital that the Minister, Deputy Coughlan, should signify on an ongoing basis to Dell and to its management the Government’s full support for keeping it in Ireland, particularly in Limerick and in the midwest. People throughout the world will be fighting the battle to keep Dell jobs in various places in the United States and elsewhere. We must show that the Government is fully committed to addressing the issues under consideration. As we understand it, decisions have not yet been made. Therefore, there is time. It is vital that the Government should put its full weight and force behind protecting those jobs.

There is a great level of insecurity in the region because of the recent announcements, the situation at Shannon Airport, as outlined by Deputy O’Donnell, and a general perception that what was a very successful region is now under threat in a wide variety of ways. However, the linchpin in all of this is the Dell company, which has been such an excellent employer in the region. The region has also given to Dell. It is a highly efficient and highly cost effective plant. Through the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the company must get the message that it is vital it remains in the region. I urge the Minister of State to impress upon the Tánaiste how vital it is for her to keep up ongoing contact with the company. I agree she should take the opportunity when she is in the United States to approach the company directly again. American companies are very impressed by governments and their commitments. They are used to dealing with politicians on employment issues. It is vital for the Government to underpin the company and save the rest of the jobs in Dell and in the other companies that are so dependent on Dell. It will have major repercussions if that company is allowed to go.

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Billy Kelleher): Information on Billy Kelleher  Zoom on Billy Kelleher  This issue has been raised on a number of occasions and I thank the Deputies for raising it tonight. Obviously I understand its sensitivity with three local Deputies coming to the House to raise the issue of Dell’s workforce in Limerick. The Government acknowledges the importance of Dell. IDA Ireland is in discussion with Dell on a regular basis. As I said on 8 October, discussions between IDA Ireland and any client company remain confidential. Everybody is aware that there is a global downturn and there are major challenges in the context of the world economy and our present situation. Dell, like any other company, is carrying out a review of its global operations. That is well known and has been broadly discussed. We are not trying to scaremonger. We are trying to ensure every support possible is made available to ensure that Dell regards Limerick as a strategic location.

IDA Ireland has been very successful in previous times. I do not want to rehearse speeches in recent times on investment in Limerick. Deputy O’Donnell referred to the establishment of a task force etc. We acknowledge the concerns of the people working there. We also acknowledge that temporary contract staff have been let go. That is a cyclical matter that happens from time to time. It is never easy for those who have been informed that their contracts of employment have been terminated. Dell has been a very successful employer and is a major contributor not only to the Limerick economy but also to Ireland Inc. I acknowledge the contribution Dell has made over many years at its plant in Limerick. Reference was made to Flextronics [862]and Banta and there are major spin-offs from Dell. I assure the Deputies that the Government with IDA Ireland as a link is in discussions with Dell. However, those discussions must remain confidential as I am sure those on the opposite side of the House will understand.

Deputy O’Donnell and others raised the matter previously. The Tánaiste met management and the Deputies will understand that those discussions must remain confidential. However, as the Tánaiste would have outlined, the Government will ensure that every support possible will be made available to Dell. Equally we must ensure that Ireland is seen as a competitive location. Major companies consistently locate here. IDA Ireland is very successful in bringing international companies here. Yesterday Marriott announced 220 jobs to be created here. Ireland is still competitive. We must put our best foot forward in ensuring that companies located here at present remain here. Importantly those considering Ireland as a location in which to invest should receive the full supports of IDA Ireland, the Government and everybody involved.

I responded on this issue on 8 October to Deputy O’Donnell. I do not want to give the same reply as he has already said that was inadequate.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell  Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell  This is the same reply.

Deputy Billy Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher  Zoom on Billy Kelleher  It is not the same reply. I have not read from my script. I am speaking not only as Minister of State with responsibility for labour affairs, but also as a Deputy in whose constituency companies have carried out worldwide reviews. I understand the concerns of the local Deputies, the Dell employees and others employed in companies supplying to or being supplied from Dell. I wish to place on the record that the Government is very conscious of the importance of Dell in Limerick and nationally. We will do everything possible. IDA Ireland is in consistent contact with the company. The Tánaiste has already met the management as has been requested from the other side of the House. It is an indication of the importance we place on this particular company. When any companies are carrying out worldwide reviews, IDA Ireland always gets involved to mitigate the impact on Ireland.

Deputy referred to other competing factors. Dell has plants throughout the world and a global review is being carried out. We should allow the company to carry out its review. We will work with the company to highlight, as the Deputies have done tonight, the importance of Dell to its 3,000 full-time employees and the seasonal temporary contract workers in Limerick. We need to allow the space and time necessary while at the same time assuring the elected representatives from Limerick that the Government and IDA Ireland are doing everything possible to mitigate any decisions that might have a negative impact on Dell in Limerick.

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