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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 15 May 1991

Vol. 408 No. 5

Adjournment Debate. - Clonmel, Tipperary, Factory Closure.

I should like to thank the Chair for allowing me to raise the closure of the Digital Plant. I would like to give one minute of my time to Deputy Ferris.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

The closure of the Digital plant in Clonmel is a massive blow and will have devastating effects on the social and economic life of the town. Since the first scare that the factory might close, we lived in hope for two months that the factory would be saved. The news yesterday that 350 jobs will be lost to Clonmel in the long term, has left the entire area in a state of shock.

The alarming consequences of yesterday's decision are that up to £12 million will be lost in wages and other service jobs to Clonmel. This is happening to a town with 2,000 people already on the unemployment register.

The people of Clonmel find little comfort in the phased closure of the plant. I resent a reported statement by a spokesperson for the IDA who said, "the reality of life is that all the workers in Clonmel could have been put on the dole queue. There is no definite threat to the factory".

I find this statement alarming, coming from the very body to which we must now entrust our future. The plain fact is that 350 jobs will ultimately be lost to Clonmel and the closure means one thing only — the lengthening of the dole queue. I ask, how could the IDA find any consolation in such an announcement?

The Minister too praised Digital on their phased closure and on consolidating the Galway plant. I must point out that for Clonmel; the departure of Digital, now or in 12 months time will be painful and harsh and will have disastrous consequences for the town.

There is only one way forward now, and that is for the Minister and the IDA to place Clonmel as top priority for a replacement industry. No words of confidence from the IDA about finding such an industry will convince me that the economic life of Clonmel will not suffer a far reaching blow, until I actually see a new industry in progress and employment provided.

I hope I have impressed on the Minister how deeply the town of Clonmel is affected by yesterday's announcement. Every effort was made by the county council, Clonmel Corporation and the Chamber of Commerce to save the plant. Unfortunately, they failed.

I plead with the Minister to inform the House of what he proposes for the future of the workforce. Their reputation and ability must be sterling assets in seeking an alternative industry. I request the Minister to meet a deputation of the workers to discuss an immediate replacement plant for Clonmel, suitable to the skills and expertise of the present workforce.

This vacuum must be filled without delay.

I thank Deputy Therese Ahearn for allowing me to share her valuable time. If anything, she has understated the case, because the blow is devastating to a constituency represented by all of us, including Deputy Davern and yourself, a Cheann Comhairle. The implications of what has happened cannot be emphasised sufficiently for the Minister. The implications for a town and a county that have suffered from 24 per cent unemployment in the past two years cannot be overstated in the House.

The Minister needs to make a commitment that he will not allow the final phasing out of the factory to take place until he and the IDA have put in place a suitable replacement industry that can take up some of the unemployed people who will lose their jobs as a result of the redundancy programme. As soon as possible there should be a meeting with the statutory bodies, the Lord Mayor, my colleague. Alderman Lyons, the chairman of the council, the manager, and all the other agencies who have worked so hard to convince the company that the operation was viable, efficient and productive, and made profits. There is no justification for a company that collected £7 million of taxpayers' money to set up in Ireland having done what they have done.

With your permission, a Cheann Comhairle, I should like to give one minute of my time to Deputy Davern.

First I should like to say that we all have a deep sense of shock and resentment that the Digital plant has gone. However, I should like to thank Digital for the tremendous investment they made in Clonmel over many years and in the training they provided of personnel and staff. Their efforts for the past two months, through the Minister for Industry and Commerce, Deputy O'Malley, to prevent the closure have at least succeeded in delaying it for one year.

It is vitally important to note that the company will help to try to find a replacement industry in the sale of that factory. In the context of another industry coming into the area it will be essential to have the commitment of the workforce loaded by the people for whom they worked.

We are not looking at what is happening today with any bitterness. We are looking with confidence-the confidence I know Digital have in the workforce — to an assured future for the highly trained workforce in a replacement industry.

When it first became known in February that Digital Equipment Corporation were considering the closure of their facility in Clonmel, both myself and the IDA made extensive efforts to avert the closure. Therefore, I was relieved to hear yesterday that Digital were to retain their manufacturing operation at Clonmel for an extended period so that every effort could be made to find a new business for the plant.

The minicomputer industry worldwide is facing considerable difficulties at present, and most of the major players in this industry have found it necessary to consolidate, and to increase their manufacturing efficiency. It was with regret that I learned that because of such difficulties Digital have decided to consolidate all hardware manufacturing operations to the Digital facility in Ballybrit, Galway. This decision was taken as part of the company's review of their manufacturing capacity worldwide, which has resulted in capacity reductions in both the USA and elsewhere in Europe. Fortunately the number of immediate redundancies in Clonmel will be limited to between 30 and 50.

I am confident that the impact on the economic and social fabric of Clonmel will, through the combined efforts of the IDA and the company, be kept to a minimum. Digital will maintain some of their manufacturing operations in Clonmel, employing between 100 and 120 people, for an extended period. During that time, the company have agreed to work closely with the IDA to find an alternative business for the plant. The quality and reputation of the workforce in Clonmel, the quality of the plant, and the co-operation of Digital should make it possible to find a new owner for the factory in the shortest possible timeframe.

Digital will also provide advice and assistance through outplacement services for any employee who may wish to find employment outside the company, perhaps wishing to remain in the Clonmel area.

I am reassured by the fact that Digital Equipment Corporation have invested heavily — more than $1.5 billion — from their own financial resources in new product development and consolidation over the past 18 months. In response to major market changes in the computer industry the corporation are restructuring their worldwide business to focus on growth areas within the sector, particularly UNIX systems, network management systems, desktops and PCs. In addition, they are undertaking a major geographic development of their market, particularly into Eastern Europe.

Digital Equipment Corporation first established a manufacturing facility in Ireland in 1971. Since then, the company have shown a high degree of commitment to Ireland through expansion and the addition of high skill design and development functions. The workforce have proved themselves to be a significant contributor to the success of the corporation. I am confident that this commitment by Digital will extend to their effort to minimise the impact of the closure in Clonmel, and that with the combined efforts of Digital and the IDA, a replacement industry will be found in the shortest possible time frame.