: Today at Question Time I asked the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Tourism if he will ask the IDA to proceed forthwith to erect a 27,000 sq. ft. advance factory at their site in Cappoquin, County Waterford in view of the closure of the Cappoquin bacon factory with the loss of 160 jobs; and if he will also make every possible effort to see that an alternative meat-processing plant is located in the area. In his reply the Minister gave a personal assurance that he would take an interest in the matter and endeavour to do as the question asked, that is to provide a major advance factory and see if an alternative meat processing industry could be found for the area.
This eveing I would like to reinforce that call and ask the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, if he would also lend his weight to this appeal to find alternative industry. Whether it be a meat processing plant or a completely new venture is not very relevant so long as we get a replacement industry in terms of jobs.
If the cities of Dublin, Cork, Waterford or Limerick lost 160 jobs there would be some comment but it would not be the end of the world because other sources of employment would be available. However, when a sparsely populated rural area loses 160 jobs obviously there is reason for concern. In this specific case there is great concern because there are no alternatives available. Over the years west Waterford has been a deprived area where industry is concerned. Cappoquin bacon factory, which closed early in August, was by far the largest industry in the region.
The people in the area have been very patient. They voiced their disapproval of the closure of the factory but accepted that it was inevitable and hoped the State agencies, in particular the IDA, would come to their rescue. After two-and-a-half months they are getting a little impatient and would like to see some action by the IDA and the Department.
This factory was in existence for 75 years and, as I said, was the largest and most stable industry in that part of the country. While 160 jobs may not seem so many to some people, there was also a considerable amount of employment created in service and support industries and the factory created employment for the people who supplied the pigs.
This closure has been a severe setback. We appreciate that matters cannot be rectified overnight but we would like a start to be made. The erection of an advance factory would be a step in the right direction. It is not very likely that a replacement meat factory will be found because this is a specialised industry, but we appreciate that any type of factory in these days when employment is in jeopardy, is difficult to come by. We would be happy if we could see some light at the end of the tunnel. In our view that light would be in the form of an advance factory which could be shown to industrialists who have certain industries in mind. There is obviously a labour pool—a very fine group of skilled individuals —available in this area.
The factory had a history of very good labour relations. As far as I know there was never a strike nor was there any industrial trouble. We appreciate that the IDA were put in a very difficult position by the way the closure was announced. The management reassured them time and again that they were not going to close the factory. While the method of operation in the factory was going to change, the management told them there was no possibility the factory would close. It came as a great surprise to everybody concerned—the employees and the general public—when the closure was announced. This meant that the IDA did not have any warning and were not in a position to provide alternative employment. As I said, we appreciate the difficulties which confronted the IDA and we are not blaming them for the debacle which occurred.
The IDA have been quite generous and dedicated in their efforts to get industry going in the west Waterford region in the past five or six years. They appreciate there is a problem there but, by one stroke, all their good work has been undone and the 160 jobs lost far outstrip the number of new jobs provided. The factory at Cappoquin was the hub of an area which consists of three small towns, Cappoquinn, Lismore and Tallow. Cappoquin and Lismore were the main towns to benefit from employment in this industry.
In the last few years, in particular in the last two years, the IDA have made efforts to set up smaller industries on industrial estates in each of those three towns. In Cappoquin we had a small firm, Cyplas International Limited, which manufactures windshields and have been in production for the past year. They employ about 20 people and eventually hope to employ 30, 40 or maybe more. In Lismore a furniture factory is being set up which it is hoped will employ 30 to 40 people, but it has not yet commenced production. There is a smaller factory in Tallow which it is hoped will employ a mere six people, and another factory which it is hoped will eventually employ more than 100 people. As yet, the numbers do not come anywhere near that total.
The IDA have done a good job. Very often factories do not come up to expectations where numbers employed are concerned. We are apprehensive that this may be the case here. Even if these factories come up to their expected labour content, they still would not satisfy the employment demand in the region. Taking that into account and the loss of 160 jobs, one can see there is a considerable problem. The alternatives are emigration or staying on the unemployment register. One has to travel considerable distances to find employment. The areas where alternative employment was available heretofore do not have the opportunities which once existed. I refer particularly to Youghal which provided employment for the west Waterford region for the past 30 or 40 years.
Youghal is one of the towns most affected in the whole of Ireland in recent times by the industrial recession. There has been a series of lay-offs and closures in the town. They have no outlets for employment for people from other areas. Dungarvan has its own problems and several industries there are experiencing difficulties, primarily because of the recession in agriculture. Because of cutbacks in the output of the agricultural sector there will be a reduction in the number of jobs available in the co-operative societies with little hope of new opportunities for jobs.
The people of west Waterford are being told they will have to paddle their own canoe so far as work is concerned. The only way they will have any success is with the co-operation of the Department of Industry, Commerce and Tourism and the IDA. The will is there on the part of the IDA. We acknowledge that their representatives are first class but we know that matters in this country need a push from the Departments and politicians, and in particular from people of ministerial rank. In this connection, I should like to congratulate Deputy Gallagher on his appointment as Minister of State which was acclaimed on all sides of the House. We hope he will do valuable work in the Department and I hope he can be of help in the specific case I am raising here tonight.
I stated that 160 jobs were lost when the Cappoquin bacon factory closed. It may be said that 35 of the people were offered alternative employment in Cork city but I should like to point out that Cork city is at least 35 miles away and that the factory where the alternative employment was offered is on the far side of Cork city, out towards the airport. It is at least one hour's drive from Cappoquin and it is not a viable proposition for a worker to travel such a distance each day. Probably it means getting up at 5.30 a.m. and returning home at 7.30 p.m. Those of us who know Cork city and its traffic problems will appreciate that the journey could take much longer. Cork is the worst city in the country, and I am including Dublin, so far as traffic chaos is concerned, particularly if the weather is bad or if there is an accident somewhere in the city. That offer of alternative employment was never on.
It is all very well to be wise after the event and to say we should have foreseen five years ago that this factory was going to close. The principals of the firm at Cappoquin purchased another bacon factory in Cork city but because of the assurances that were given constantly the IDA could not move in and look for a major industry of the type we are seeking now. They were led astray—and this is generally appreciated in the area—as were the public representatives and the people generally. However, that is water under the bridge and we must start afresh now.
The question has been raised as to whether west Waterford should be designated as an underdeveloped area. This is not without precedent; it has been done in many areas where there have been heavy job losses. It is a common feature in the west of Ireland where the rate of grant is especially high in order to attract foreign and native industrialists. However, it has been done also at Ballingarry and Fethard in County Tipperary where the coal mines closed not too many years ago. The percentage grant was a sufficient enticement to get industrialists to come to the area. Despite what the Minister, Deputy O'Malley, said here today, that suggestion should be given consideration. I do not think any other region would object if we were designated as underdeveloped. As was pointed out, there is considerable competition for factories and we know the task will not be easy. At the end of the day it is up to the industrialist himself to decide where to locate his factory. A major inducement would be to increase the percentage grant that might be available.
Some new industries were set up but we must also take into account the number of existing industries that closed. What happened in the case of west Waterford is that the new industries that were set up through the efforts of the IDA merely balanced out the existing industries that have closed. The efforts of the IDA have been stymied because of the collapse of other industries and their efforts to find new jobs have just managed to redress the balance.
The suggestion was made initially that the factory that was closed could be reopened by another industrialist but that is not a practical proposition because the building does not come up to EEC standards for the slaughtering of pigs and I do not think it could be adapted to suit other purposes. The Waterford County Council and the county development team have passed unanimous resolutions along the lines of the question that I put to the Minister today. Not alone have we the backing of the people in the Cappoquin area but we also have the backing of the entire county in our efforts to find an alternative along the lines suggested in the question.
We are very worried that we may fall between two stools in requesting that an alternative meat processing factory be set up while, on the other hand, advocating a new advance factory. We consider both objectives should be pursued. We cannot afford to wait in the hope of getting a meat processing industry, although that is where the skilled labour could use their trades best of all. We cannot wait for that because it could be many years before such a factory materialised. However, we consider that we cover all the options by suggesting an advance factory and that is why we advocated that the Minister should direct the IDA to do that. It is our view that it would be that much easier to attract industrialists to the area. I am sure the Minister has had to deal with similar problems in such deprived areas as Achill and the Erris Peninsula and obviously he has experience about how problems have been overcome. I am asking him to give us the benefit of his expertise and, above all, his political muscle in ensuring that the employment situation is redressed.