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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 31 May 1995

Vol. 453 No. 7

Adjournment Debate. - Closure of Sunbeam Industries Limited (Cork).

I wish to share my time with Deputies Quill and Martin.

Is that agreed? Agreed. The Deputies have five minutes in total.

It is with a heavy heart that I raise for the fourth time within four months the threat which now seems fatal to the Sunbeam plant. During the previous debates on the Sunbeam factory, the Opposition public representatives for Cork city tried to be constructive in our comments and placed our trust in the Minister to ensure that the plant received all possible State support to guarantee its survival.

We were repeatedly told the matter was receiving every attention from the Government and that all necessary resources within the Department of Enterprise and Employment and Forbairt were being mobilised to that end. With the closure of the plant announced today, what can I say to my constituents on the north side of Cork city? In particular what can I say to the many families directly or indirectly affected by this industrial disaster in our community?

Can I say that the Government left no stone unturned to assist the Sunbeam plant in its struggle for survival? Can I even with any degree of confidence state that the Government Ministers have shown their concern by visiting the plant and getting an insight into its problems at first hand? We now see clearly the Government's commitment to this plant. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle had a slight difficulty with me earlier today when I questioned why my Private Notice Question was not allowed when the Minister for Enterprise and Employment, Deputy Richard Bruton and the Minister of State at that Department, Deputy Rabbitte, were present and could get involved in the discussion. Neither is here tonight and that clearly shows the interest of this Government and the Minister in this problem. There is no Government representative from Cork city in the Chamber and that is a clear indication of the message I am trying to get across.

Unfortunately, I have little option but to come to the conclusion that the net contribution of the Government to date has been to offer lip service to the critical need to copperfasten the precious 320 or so jobs provided at Sunbeam by ensuring its survival. In their hour of need the workers have been abandoned by what can only be described as a callous Government. It is one thing to lose a much-needed plant after every possible avenue of rescue has been travelled, and every opportunity for recovery examined. In such a situation one at least has the consolation that every effort has been made to avoid closure. I have no choice but to strongly condemn the failure of this Government to respond with compassion and effectiveness to the critical employment needs of my constituents. Even at this disastrous stage in the matter, I plead with the Government to wake up to their grave responsibility to the employees of Sunbeam. Located in an area with some of the worst unemployment levels in the country, the factory has an excellent skilled and totally committed workforce.

I would like to impress on the Minister that the time for talking and promising is well and truly over. Now he must clearly show whether he is equal to the simple direct challenge posed by Sunbeam. If the Minister will not or cannot move effectively to save the jobs of a skilled workforce located in an area of appalling unemployment, then what hope has he of dealing effectively with the unemployment problem in general?

I request the Minister to fully inform the House of all steps which he has taken to ensure the viability of the Sunbeam plant and at a minimum to provide full details of his plans for ensuring that an alternative enterprise is immediately secured for the Sunbeam factory.

For the past number of weeks I have been in constant contact with Forbairt regarding the Sunbeam plant. I was given the clear impression that negotiations on an investment package were at an advanced stage, the expectation was that this package would be successful, that the industry would be secured and the majority of the jobs saved. What has gone wrong? I was given the clear impression that a successful outcome would be announced today. Could it be that this Government refused to put up the money at the eleventh hour? If that is the case can the Minister's representative say how much money was involved and how much per job it would represent? How can the Minister on behalf of the Government justify this Government spending £50 million on Irish Steel and refusing to spend a tiny fraction of that amount to save the jobs in the Sunbeam plant? Are the jobs in the Sunbeam plant not as important to the workers and to the economy as a job in Irish Steel? Has the Minister, or any member of the Government, any concept of the anguish caused to the workers and their families and the loss to Blackpool and Cork if a workforce second to none is forced by this Government on to the scrap heap?

I join my colleagues in stating that the non-attendance of the Minister for Enterprise and Employment, Deputy Richard Bruton, and the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, represents a scandalous disregard for the workers of Sunbeam and their families. In fact, it represents a calculated insult to their plight. The very least we could have expected this evening was that the Ministers responsible would come before this House and answer to the Opposition Deputies from the constituency where the plant is located. It is scandalous that they are not present and illustrates the different treatment being meted out to factories and employment outside the capital. If this factory was located in Deputy Rabbitte's constituency or in Dublin he would be in here arguing for it. We were fed up watching him on television morning, noon and night out at the Packard plant or meeting with its management across the water. We saw no such commitment to the Sunbeam plant in Cork.

We need answers and to know what was lacking in the Government's commitment to the plant. Where did it go wrong? We deserve that answer because in previous attempts when Deputies Wallace and Quill raised this issue in the House the impression was certainly given that serious efforts were under way to ensure a viable package for the rescue of this plant. We were given no warning that it was in a perilous state. It is reprehensible that we now find ourselves in this situation. Let me repeat that at the very least the Minister, and all Government Deputies from the constituency, Deputies Lynch, Allen and Burke, should be present for this debate. When we were in Government they would have been in the House in a similar situation and it is scandalous that they are not here to represent their constituents and make their views known on this appalling situation and tragic loss of jobs in Cork city.

Let me remind the Opposition Deputies that I raised a number of issues on the Adjournment in my time in Opposition and the appropriate Minister was not present.

The Minister should deal with the matter before him.

The Ministers cannot be present through no fault of theirs.

Deputy Wallace tried to ask questions today but they did not answer them.

That is irrelevant at this stage, the Minister without interruption, please.

Let there be no interference with the £50 million package for Irish Steel.

I thank the Deputies for raising this matter and in particular Deputy Quill for her very constructive comments.

The situation at Sunbeam Industries Limited in Cork has been debated on several occasions recently in the House and the company's financial difficulties have been well known for some months. On the Adjournment debate on 18 May 1995 the Minister of State, Deputy Eithne Fitzgerald, referred to the ongoing efforts being made by Forbairt to try to secure the future of the existing operations.

Given that the workers were issued with protective notice two weeks ago, today's decision by the company to go into voluntary liquidation was not unexpected. I reiterate that I share the concerns of all Deputies in the area, about the possible job losses.

On behalf of the Minister, Deputy Bruton, and the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, I assure all concerned that Forbairt is engaged in active discussions with a potential investor. Significant progress has been made in relation to a possible proposal and the normal clarifications and negotiations associated with this exercise are well advanced.

The Deputies will appreciate, however, that I am not in a position to elaborate further at this stage regarding the precise details of the proposal but I ask for their co-operation in ensuring that the current discussions are given every possible opportunity to be brought to a conclusion. Some of the emotive rhetoric tonight may not be helpful.

I am disappointed that the Sunbeam Industries board has been forced to put the company into liquidation. Nevertheless, I want to assure the House, the workers at the Cork plant and indeed their families that this development should not adversely affect the outcome of the current negotiations to which I have already referred. Forbairt will consider any proposal emerging from these discussions on its merits. It is important to stress, however, that the final outcome will depend on the overall viability of the project. The Minister for Enterprise and Employment is hopeful that this process can be completed within a matter of weeks.

The Dáil adjourned at 9 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 1 June 1995.