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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 5 Jun 1996

Vol. 466 No. 4

Adjournment Debate. - Treatment of Former Employees.

I thank you for the opportunity to raise this matter. That I received a telephone call from the Department asking what I was getting at is a sad indictment and testimony to the lack of understanding of the impact which the loss of 320 jobs has had on a town such as Dundalk. I was astounded last Thursday evening when I saw the "Six-one" news. I do not for one minute begrudge the employees in Packard the excellent efforts which have been made on their behalf in regard to the Tallaght task force report. The Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, announced he has approved the Tallaght task force interim report and that it now awaited the Government's approval. Perhaps the Minister would give an indication as to whether the Government has approved this report.

It is a fine report in that £2.1 million has been allocated to assist the former employees of Packard in their plight. The loss of 320 jobs in the Dundalk area is equal to, if not more devastating than the loss of 800 jobs in Packard in Tallaght. I was surprised to see the chief executive officer of the IDA launch this interim report. This is in stark contrast with what has happened in Keytronic in Dundalk, where we asked for a similar type task force — the Minister is aware of this request — for the Dundalk area and a trust fund for the former employees of Keytronic who are to be laid off in probably worse conditions given the redundancy and other issues relating to the Packard employees. On the one hand we have a report asking for and securing £2.1 million from the Government to assist the former employees of Packard and we get nothing from the Government and the State agencies in respect of Keytronic. We are thankful for the EPC project in Dundalk but there is no connection between the two issues.

I accept that we cannot dictate to EPC about the employees it should take on, but the Government is putting its shoulder to the wheel in retraining former Packard employees. A new company is proposed for Dundalk but efforts are not being made to retrain former Keytronic employees so that they might have a chance of recruitment in the new facility.

I am sure the Minister will say we have enough in Dundalk and that we should be happy. The employees of Keytronic are not happy and a trust fund, similar to that provided for the Packard employees, should be set up. In the region of £550,000 in the form of grants, interest free loans, counselling, retraining and so on is being allocated to help soften the blow in the Tallaght area. I ask for the same treatment for the town of Dundalk which has suffered greatly for many years. In recent years efforts have been made to build it up from a very poor base. In 1989 the then Government changed the rules from maximum grant status for IDA purposes which allowed business people in the area to invest in advance factories and Dundalk was held up as an example to other towns. Local investors invested money in advance factories which ultimately led to new industries in the area. Dundalk was also designated under the area partnership scheme and this has proved successful. I ask the Minister to ensure that the employees of Keytronic are treated in the same way as the employees of Packard. IDA Ireland, FÁS and other State agencies, including the Minister's Department, should work together to assist the employees of Keytronic.

I wish to give the first minute of my time to Deputy McGahon.

I am sure that is agreed.

My heart agrees with much that Deputy Ahern said. However, I take issue with him about the efforts he claims Fianna Fáil made to assist the Border area.

The factories are there to prove it.

During the eight years——

What about the factories that are there?

Deputy Ahern, time is limited and I do not want any interruptions. Let us hear the Deputy without interruption.

In the eight years that Deputy Ahern has been a Member of this House, four months of which he has spent as Chief Whip, he has not made a squeak about a task force.

The factories are there to prove it.

Will the Deputy allow me speak, please? Did Deputy Ahern approve of the unemployment figure of more than 4,000 in Dundalk for all those years?

Deputy McGahon cannot deny that the new factories exist.

Deputy Ahern is using this issue for political opportunism. This is the third time he has raised the matter in the House.

It is factual and Deputy McGahon knows that.

I asked Deputy Ahern not to interrupt. It is blatantly unfair when such limited time is available.

I am happy with the Minister's commitment but unfortunately we have witnessed the closure of a factory which Deputy Ahern knows was living on borrowed time for the past 11 years.

The people of Keytronic are envious of the people in Packard.

Last week the Minister announced a new factory for Dundalk and that will give definite hope to the people of the town. Reasonable efforts are being made. In the eight years I was in Opposition I did not raise this matter. Deputy Ahern does not need to play party politics with the issue. He will do well enough in the next election.

I am merely looking for equal treatment for the people of Keytronic and Deputy McGahon should ask for the same for them.

I too want equal treatment for them.

This is a crime and the Deputy knows it.

Why did Deputy Ahern not initiate a task force when he was in a position to do so?

There is a Minister in the Packard constituency and Deputy McGahon is well aware of that.

Deputy Ahern was heard without interruption and he should extend similar courtesy to the Deputy in possession who has only a minute or two to contribute.

The Minister came to Dundalk, gave a rational explanation and announced a new industry for the town. Unfortunately, Keytronic foundered. It had been living or borrowed time for the past eight years and Deputy Ahern is well aware of that. Its time ran out probably when it utilised all the grants. It could not compete internationally and Deputy Ahern knows the reasons for that. I agree with his sentiments but why did he not call for the setting up of a task force when he was in position to do so?

All Deputy McGahon and I want is equal treatment.

In dealing with problems in Tallaght, Dundalk or elsewhere I want to provide employment opportunities, particularly when there is a factory closure of the nature which occurred in Keytronic. I am pleased that through working with the agencies under my control I was able to respond positively to that closure and announce a replacement industry for Dundalk that will create 300 jobs when fully operational. It involves an investment of £21 million by Engineering Plastic Components Limited. It was good planning on the part of my Department to be able to respond positively to the needs of the area and the new industry will deliver to people jobs and opportunities that really count. That is equal treatment. I hope we can also do something constructive for the Tallaght area, but much work remains to be done there.

I am pleased the new company in Dundalk will fit well with Keytronic. It has commenced to recruit workers and there will be a certain skills match between the workers who lost their jobs in Keytronic and those who will be employed in EPC. In addition, IDA Ireland and FÁS are working together on a skills survey to ascertain the level of staff retraining required and FÁS is working with Keytronic on the registration of workers. Where necessary we will provide appropriate training.

I am pleased to have had an opportunity to meet all the agencies involved. Co-operation between the people of Dundalk and State agencies is impressive. Dundalk houses the regional headquarters for Forbairt and the county enterprise board and operates a successful local employment scheme. An extremely good network of agencies operates in the town. When I visited Dundalk I said I expected the people there to respond to the problem by working in a co-ordinated fashion with the various agencies, and I was pushing an open door in that regard. There is great commitment among agencies in the town to work together to respond to this crisis. In addition, I was in a position to announce that IDA Ireland, through private sector investment, is arranging for the construction of a new 25,000 square foot factory in Dundalk. This is a positive response to a crisis.

The loss of jobs in Keytronic is regrettable, but the Government has responded constructively. It planned with foresight and we are providing counselling and retraining and assisting new business through the county enterprise board. A new replacement industry and a new advance factory will be set up in the area. I am glad to have been able to respond in that fashion to the recent crisis.

The Deputy contrasted the position of Keytronic with that of Packard in Tallaght.

I am not the only one.

We have yet to find a replacement industry for Tallaght. The Deputy will know from reading the task force report that it has set that as its priority. Other priorities include the availability of space to develop enterprise, which we have gladly been able to do in Dundalk. We are responding on the key issues and will continue to do so. I am surprised the Deputy is not aware that there is a great deal of commitment in this area. There is co-ordination and co-operation between the groups involved. They are working as a unit to tackle the problems. The prospects for Dundalk are good and they will deliver an effective response.

Deputy McGahon is right in that this is the response we expect from a Government concerned about employment, and we will continue in that direction. I am glad of the continued support of Deputies McGahon and Dermot Ahern. When I visited Dundalk the attitude of Deputies from all sides was much more constructive, co-operative and determined than seems to be displayed in this Chamber, which is a sad reflection on debate here. We have dealt with the realities in this case. We are delivering and will continue to do so.