My question which was No. 49 on yesterday's Order Paper asks the Minister for Industry and Commerce if the IDA have in the past grant-aided the IMP-Cork Marts Leixlip plant in any way and, if so, to what extent; if the IDA have granted-aided the Cork Marts Group in the past and, if so, to what extent.
I thank you for allowing me to raise this matter on the Adjournment. I tabled the question and sought this permission because of the frustration and anxiety being expressed by the people in Leixlip, County Kildare — those who have been involved as employees of this plant, the farmer producers and the entire community in the area — in the past few months at the lack of information relating to the disposal of part of the assets of Cork Marts in Leixlip.
The Cork Marts Group purchased the IMP plant at Leixlip in the late sixties. They were assisted in that regard by reason of the goodwill of the workers in the plant and of the farming community also who ultimately were the producers who would supply the mart. The group were given every facility to raise money by share capital and, more important, they were given every facility in terms of goodwill which is an essential element in the take over of any plant. One of the reasons for the farming community having co-operated to such an extent was that they considered it necessary to have an independent meat processing plant which would be available to the farming community in north Leinster so that they could sell their products on a competitive market.
Through the late sixties and early seventies the plant prospered and benefited greatly from our membership of the EC and from intervention in particular. During the same period the management did not take account of the fact that all times would not necessarily be the good times and that everything in the garden would not necessarily remain rosy. It was decided by the group during that period — I accept fully that this was their right — to build a plant in Midleton, County Cork. I am sure the Minister of State who is present was proud that the plant was located in his constituency but it might never have been built there if in the first place IMP in Leixlip had not been the only meat processing plant owned by the Cork Marts Group.
In the late seventies and early eighties the whole operation took a turn for the worse. There was a series of stop go sessions whereby the plant was closed for periods and then reopened. Some people were offered redundancies while no such offer was made to others. Some of those who accepted redundancies were reemployed by the firm a short time afterwards which at the very least was extraordinary. More important and more recently the factory closed with the loss at that stage of 300 jobs. In the early sixties 1,000 people were employed at the plant but, through mismanagement and the mishandling of the entire operation, the number had dwindled to about 300. Those people have not been give any indication as to what their future is. They do not know whether they are to receive redundancy, whether they will be reemployed and if so, who will employ them, or whether the factory will ever open again. There has been no information from any quarter as to the purpose to which the purchasers intend to put the plant. There is no indication as to whether it is to be used at all as a meat processing unit or whether slaughtering is to be continued there.
In the north Leinster area this meat processing plant was the major hope of the farming community and of the economy of the area as a whole. The plant was a major employer but all of that hangs in the balance by virtue of its having been sold to an unnamed person or persons for a sum alleged to be in the region of £2 million. Despite repeated requests from the workforce, from public representatives and from various Government Departments, no information has been given to anyone as to what use the plant is to be put. To exacerbate matters, prior to closing finally the previous management who were the Cork Marts owned group, took on, on a contract basis, the processing of meat for another firm. Most of that meat is impounded at the plant by reason of there being a picket on the premises. That meat is worth several million pounds. This contract was undertaken callously in the knowledge that there was a proposal to dispose of the property. The management at the time must have realised that a situation would have developed in which the workforce would try to establish their rights. I can understand the owners of the meat trying to realise their assets. After entering into the contract with the other firm the management washed their hands of the whole operation.
In the past month various attempts have been made again by the workforce and by public representatives to elicit information but, as was the case prior to and during the Christmas period, we were treated with contempt. Nobody considered it worthwhile even to return telephone calls or to give any information to the union representatives or to the farmers' representatives though both these groups are crucial from the point of view of goodwill and from the continuation of the plant as an economic entity.
I do not see any reason for our allowing this situation to continue. If the plant had never received any grant aid I could understand fully that as a private enterprise the management had the right to sell to whomever they wished to sell or to the highest bidder and do whatever they wished with the plant thereafter, themselves or the people who purchased it. I refer to the answer given to my parliamentary question yesterday which was:
According to the IDA, Irish Meat Producers Limited, Leixlip were approved grants totalling £985,908 of which £459,046 has been paid to date. The Cork Marts IMP Group, including the IMP plant at Leixlip, were approved grants totalling £2,443,987, of which £1,459,214 has been paid to date.
That is £1.5 million of State funds which has been paid into that group over the last number of years. If that group now think they have no responsibility to their workers and those who produced cattle for them for processing in that plant and to the taxpayers of this country an if the group want to callously disregard all the calls made to them by all the public representatives, it is time we took a very firm hand.
Having managed to accumulate those grant aids, to which they were entitled, they are now deciding to withhold all information as to the future use of the plant. Not only should we now decide to curtail the amount for which approval has been given, but also other grants for which they might yet be considered, and that should apply right across the board to the entire group. We cannot tolerate a group dictating to anybody and everybody, workers, management and perhaps to the Government for all I know, but certainly to the general public. They have not been accountable and have not indicated that they will become accountable. They have snubbed us all.
I call on the Minister to take firm decisions, first to undertake an evaluation of the outstanding amounts of money for which the Cork Marts Group have got approval and to ask them specific questions such as: To whom has the plant been sold, for what purpose and for how much? What do they intend should now become of the workforce there? What do they intend should become of the goodwill generated by that workforce and by the farming community who assisted them in the first place in their takeover of that reprocessing plant? Do they feel that they have any moral or financial responsibility to those concerned, the workforce, the producers, the Government and the taxpayers in return for the grants which they have already received? Do they feel they should in the future look for further grant aid, perhaps to continue to pursue the same line in another area? Those are questions which need to be asked firmly and answered now.
It is not the responsibility of the Minister now present but I have a suspicion that the same operation would now be entitled to considerable grant aid under another heading and may also be entitled to further grant aid under that heading — I refer to the FEOGA grant system. I do not intend to pursue that matter any further, but would ask the Minister to intercede with his colleague, the Minister for Agriculture in an effort to elicit the vital information from that quarter and to find out where further grant aid will accrue to the plant and for what purpose, and whether it is desirable to find out the intentions with regard to what will happen in Leixlip from now on.
There are approximately 300 people on the workforce and they now have no future. They have been given no information and will not get any, as far as I can see. The public representatives are not going to get any information, nor are the IDA. The only way to elicit information is by way of a parliamentary question or by raising the matter in this House.
I appreciate that Government Departments cannot intervene or interfere in the day to day running of individual companies. However, I strongly believe that where companies have benefited from the grants available to them through the State system, they have a moral responsibility to inform us now as to what they did with the assets they have disposed of or will do with those they propose to dispose of in the future. They have equally a moral responsibility to state whether they propose to have a condition imposed whereby the workforce who served them so well for so long will continue in employment or have no future at all.
If reasonable answers are not given and quickly, the Minister and the Minister for Agriculture must inform the group concerned that, if they feel they do not have to divulge what they are doing with the money they have received, the answer to that is simply that there is no more money forthcoming. That may seem a stark and harsh decision to take but, if the situation is not faced now, it may be too late to do it in the future. The people of Leixlip who have worked for this company for so long have got the impression that they are being treated with contempt and let there be no doubt about it, they are.
The farming community who assisted them in the takeover of the plant in the first place back in the sixties are getting no recognition for their efforts and their confidence has been betrayed as in the case of the workforce. We are not in a position to elicit the vital information on what is proposed to be done with that plant and we have the right to call the tune. We have to ask what they are doing with the money they got and what they propose to do with the further funds approved for them. If they do not give satisfactory answers, it behoves us to cut off the supply.
I do not wish to criticise any individual but, at a time when every other meat processing outlet in the country was expanding, obtaining grant assistance, forging new markets in other countries and improving the situation generally, both competively within the country and outside it, it is amazing that the plant in Leixlip could not remain in business despite the fact that the trend elsewhere was the reverse. Everywhere else people seemed confident enough to invest further in the industry and continue to give employment.
It is not sufficient to blame fluctuations in the market. What about all the other plants? How were they able to expand and open up new markets? Why did many ex-management staff from this plant go elsewhere, open up new plants and forge new markets and links with new customers successfully? There are many questions to be answered. I do not expect that they can all be answered tonight by the Minister but as a public representative, along with every other representative in the constituency of Kildare, I say that until such time as these answers are elicited from the firm, and until such time as the workers and farmer-producers are given an indication as to what will happen in Leixlip in the future, there will be no respite.