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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 13 Mar 1986

Vol. 364 No. 9

Adjournment Debate. - Killeshandra (Cavan) Factory.

I will not be taking my full 20 minutes but I am grateful to the Ceann Comhairle for providing me with the opportunity of raising this matter which is of great importance in my constituency. The closure of this factory is causing anxiety to many people who have been working in the plant which manufactures milk powder products and uses raw materials from the area. This is one concern which we always regarded as being very soundly based. There was not fly-by-night element in it as sometimes happens in industries which are not so firmly rooted in the soil of the area.

There is a very good research section there and it was with much regret that we saw two lines, which had been developed some time ago, were transferred out of the country, one to England and another to the Six Counties.

Last October a temporary closure — which perturbed me at that time and I tried to raise it on the Adjournment — was announced by the company which closed down from late October and the opening date was scheduled for 3 March. In the meantime there had been talk of redundancies. My information is that the request was for 90 redundancies which would be voluntary. Nobody welcomes redundancies and nobody wants redundancies, but in so far as there had to be redundancies at least in this case the redundancies were to be voluntary. From my information these redundancies are not the problem at the moment.

There have been statements from the management and the unions. I was informed that the management said there were to be no further redundancies until the end of 1987 and there was no question of compulsory redundancies anyway. The management allege that they cannot run the factory freely, that full management decisions are being wrested from their hands by the unions. management are claiming the exclusive right to manage the business. That is the ex parte pleading. They want the winter closure operation to continue. They are looking for job interchangeability, in other words, that personnel may be switched around. They say — and I have no evidence of what the union demand is — they regard one hour per week as sufficient for shop stewards to deal with the management, with regard to any problems that arise. A proposal for shorter working hours, if necessary, has been mooted by the management as well and they want the voluntary redundancy programme to remain open.

The union involved is the Irish Transport and General Workers Union. I was unable to get in touch with Senator Kirwan about this matter but perhaps I will be able to make contact with him later. We also have Deputy Bell and Deputy Prendergast here who are important members of that union, and if they can be of any help I would be grateful because I am looking for help anywhere I can get it in order to avoid permanent closure of this factory.

I have met personally a sizeable number of union members and I was contacted by other members of the workforce. There is no ill-will felt by the workers. There is nothing but good-will among the workers I met and I hope this extends to the complete workforce and management. So far there have been 30 voluntary redundancies agreed out of the total number being demanded. As I said, as far as I can make out, actual redundancies are not the paramount problem.

On 5 March there was a shut-down and 180 people lost their jobs. The management and the workers failed to agree. That is the obvious reason for this closure and there is a sit-in there at the moment. There is a strong desire among the workers that the plant should re-open, but negotiations seem to have stopped. My main reason for asking for this debate on the Adjournment was to try to get negotiations reopened so that we do not have management in one tent and workers in another tent, all sulking until the industry is lost to the region. I know that a public meeting is being called on Saturday night. I do not want positions to harden; that is the main point. If positions harden, if insults are swapped, then the industry, the economy, the region and the people will be the losers. That is the simple fact of the matter.

I know that the workers have already received their RPIs. Some of them who came to me over the weekend were very upset about this, some with as many as 15 years' service. We live in a far more complicated world in 1986 than we did 20 years ago. Twenty years ago in rural Ireland one could not get a mortgage for a house. That whole scene has changed. People have entered into long term commitments for the purchase of houses, and in dealings with their banks based on their jobs in this factory. Needless to say they are perturbed and upset about the whole matter.

I should like to put on the record of the House that bloodymindedness on the part of management or of unions as of now is out of place. Talk and settlements are important. I do not want to be romantic about the thing but this firm is the powerhouse of co-operation in our county. MacCormac Products is a private industry. The Killeshandra Co-operative Society is located just across the road. Co-operation, with a small "c" is as important on one side of the road as it is on the other. For that reason I am asking that whatever the Minister, the trade union leadership and management can do should be done by way of putting their act together as of now, to see to it that this industry, based on a product from the area, is allowed to continue, thus enriching part of the area I represent.

The present position regarding the proposed closure of MacCormac Products is indeed, as Deputy Wilson has said, most regrettable. I agree 100 per cent with Deputy Wilson. Certainly anything I can do I will do and I will be guided by Deputy Wilson because he is quite right in saying that hardening of attitudes or any type of hasty decision by anybody at this point would be most unfortunate. This incident is even more unfortunate, in that we are seeing a healthy and profitable company being put at risk as a result of an internal dispute. One would not mind if it were a lame duck type of company but it is a healthy, profitable one. MacCormac Products form an important part of the dairying industry in the north of the country. Indeed, they are an important part of the economy overall, employing, as they do, close on 200 people. In recent years they have operated in the skimmed milk side of the dairy industry. They have been providing very useful outlets for this in such products as a calf milk replacer and fat filled milk powder for human and animal consumption.

The dairy industry in Ireland and indeed the EC as a whole has been going through difficult times over the past number of years. We have seen increased production of milk and of basic milk products while the market for these products has not expanded sufficiently to absorb them. The result has been that the intervention system has come under severe pressure. Current stocks of butter in the Community are in excess of one million tonnes and stocks of skimmed milk powder are over half that. Irish stocks of butter are over 100,000 tonnes at present while, thankfully, our skimmed milk stocks are quite low.

The world market for butter is particularly difficult at present and the skimmed milk powder market, though more buoyant in recent times, cannot be relied upon. On the production side we are now in a quota situation. Despite the favourable outcome of the initial superlevy negotiations, we are in a position now where there is a fixed ceiling on our total milk output. The returns to producers cannot be guaranteed any longer by simply increasing their output. They are dependent primarily upon an industry capable of adding value to what is essentially a raw material, in other words the whole milk supplied ex-farm. MacCormac Products have been involved in adding value to the skimmed milk element of this raw material over a number of years. Now, more than ever, their continued involvement is essential.

I might mention the price proposals currently on the table in Brussels in so far as milk is concerned and which are not a source of joy to Ireland. Effectively what is being proposed — and it is no harm to say this so that everybody will realise what we are talking about and will know the difficulties being experienced in the industry — is a price freeze for producers with a further adjustment in the relative values of the fat and the nonfat element of whole milk. This will lead to some small increase in the value of skimmed milk powder and a reduction in the price of butter. During the negotiations we will be fighting hard for a more favourable package. But as the proposals stand, the producer would not benefit.

The adjustment in the values is merely a response to the market situation as it applies to the fat and protein elements of milk. We have not yet reached our peak production period this year. Therefore there is still time — and perhaps this debate is timely — to undo some of the damage caused by the dispute. In the context of the milk situation in Ireland there is one thing which is painfully clear: we need to maintain all our value-added processors operating at full production at this time.

Hear, hear.

I might point out to Deputy Wilson that I have had this type of problem in my constituency which is unfortunate. In many cases the position was terminal. In some cases there was no way that firms could be salvaged. Certainly this is an unnecessary one at MacCormac Products. Indeed it is the sort of thing we need at the moment like we need a hole in the head, to be frank about it. I hope that good sense will prevail. I will have a discussion with the Minister for Labour and the Public Service, Deputy Quinn, to ascertain if he can use his good offices. Anything I can do I shall be only too delighted to do.

The Dáil adjourned at 5.20 p.m. until 12 noon on Wednesday, 19 March 1986.