I propose to give my constituency colleague, Deputy Kirk, some of my time to discuss a matter which is of mutual concern to us. I should like to thank the Chair for giving us the opportunity of raising the issue of another Dundalk company that has hit the deck. As a representative from a neighbouring county, the Chair can appreciate the trauma people in industries in Dundalk are going through. Yesterday's unhappy news that the Dundalk Engineering Works had foundered was a continuation of the tragic story of Dundalk industry. That story started in the late sixties with the emergence of the Ulster troubles, has continued unabated through the seventies and is gathering momentum in the eighties. I have often said here, and outside, that Dundalk has paid the full price for the tragic troubles in Ulster and compensatory measures have not been introduced by any Government, my own included.
Dundalk, with a population of 27,000 people, is the biggest town in Ireland and for many years it led the field in the area of industrial development. Now we are faced with extinction. It is a sad fact that there are more people employed in the public service in the town than there are in manufacturing industry. The Government should give some recognition quickly to the fact that Dundalk is a disaster area, a town that is crucified because of the lack of employment. In 1978 Thomas McArdle's engineering firm were employing up to 400 people but that concern has now disappeared into the folklore of Dundalk. It was not replaced. Their modern plant, standing on 20 acres, is evidence of the economic decay that surrounds Dundalk. Early this year Clarks (Ireland) Limited, a firm that was for 40 years the home of the Irish footwear industry, pulled out of Ireland. In 1980 that firm employed up to 800 people. Now the pride of Dundalk, the footwear industry, employs only 110 people.
Two months ago the oldest industry in Dundalk, Williamsons, foundered. That firm was a symbol of prosperity and Dundalk's economic well-being for 150 years. Now we have the news that a receiver has been placed in S & S. That firm, a subsidiary of the FRAM company of Brooklyn, gave gainful employment to 320 people. It made tremendous profits for the parent company but, due to the collapse of the company in Brooklyn, the future looks bleak for the 320 workers. That sizeable proportion of the Dundalk workforce do not know where they stand because they all received some type of notice yesterday.
I should like to acknowledge the help the Government, and their predecessors. Fianna Fáil, gave this company. I understand that £1.8 million was given over a period of years. I do not believe that management, or the workers, have any quibble about that. They all acknowledge that great help was given. I understand that Fóir Teoranta had a representative on the board and were fully conscious of the difficulties facing the parent company. As recently as last week that representative went to America. I accept that the difficulties for the parent company precluded the Government from making any significant impact on the deliberations that are taking place. I understand that there were banking difficulties in America.
I should like to plead with the Government to give every possible assistance to any bid that may emanate from the management of the Dundalk company. Without meaning any disrespect to my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Collins, I must confess that I was a little disappointed that the Minister, Deputy Bruton, was not present for the debate. The position in Dundalk is so grave as to require assistance from the Government. The town cannot take much more. The Dundalk region is withering away and requires a special package of assistance. The same assistance should be given to that devastated region, an unglamorous part of Ireland due to the Ulster troubles, as has been given to Cork, a more glamorous region with greater political clout, being the home of a former Taoiseach, the present deputy leader of my party, and other Deputies who, obviously, have more clout than I. Dundalk should get that attention and I ask the Government to build in compensatory measures and bolster economic activity in the town by creating a special task force for the area.
I should like to point out to the Minister that Dundalk, and County Louth, have an undeniable claim to being declared disadvantaged areas. Why is it that we have to wait until 1985 for that recognition? At the turn of the century Dundalk led the country in economic activity with textile and footwear industries but those industries proved vulnerable to new technology and other pressures. However, replacement industries were not sought for the region
The IDA who, I acknowledge, have a very difficult job, have not been successful until this year in attracting industry to Dundalk. It is an open secret that if Dundalk was included on the itinerary of visiting industrialists it was put at the end and the more glamorous regions such as Cork, Galway, Waterford and Limerick were visited by these industrialists and in some cases they did not come to Dundalk at all.
I am asking that Dundalk should be upgraded within the IDA system and I want more help for that region. A special task force must be set up. We must be designated a disadvantaged region. The neighbouring counties of Monaghan and Cavan have this designation. They are rural counties. In recent years they have been very successfully geared to the cooperative movement, with the result that their unemployment figure has decreased considerably. The percentage of the work force unemployed in Monaghan and Cavan is as low as 13 per cent while in my county it is as high as 24 per cent. Surely those figures cannot be ignored much longer by any Irish Government?
I want to emphasise most strongly and pungently that my area is the neglected area of the country. The pendulum of deprivation has swung from the west to the north east and because of the Border and the Ulster troubles we are withering almost to extinction. Successive Governments have failed to recognise what has been happening and, 17 years after the start of the Ulster troubles, it may now be too late. Immediate help is needed if we are to survive.