I thank you, Sir, for allowing me to raise this matter tonight and I belatedly congratulate you on your celebration last Sunday.
Adjournment Debate. - South Tipperary Job Losses.
Was it the Ceann Comhairle's birthday?
Yes. While it was a happy occasion for you, a Cheann Comhairle, it was a disastrous week for the people of South Tipperary because two industries closed, the Tambrands factory in Tipperary town and the Schiesser factory in Carrick-on-Suir, and a number of jobs were lost in the Schiesser plant in Clonmel also. I am particularly concerned about something which, as the Minister mentioned, also happened in regard to the closure of Semperit — no prior notice was given to the workers or unions in any of these factories. This is a new phase of Irish industrial life and I am surprised, given that we have a left wing oriented Government, that this has not been corrected or stymied. Workers were called in and told that jobs which they had for up to 30 years had gone. It is not good enough to treat workers like that and, where industrial relations have been good for many years, it is not good enough to treat the unions in that way either. They are the people who have to negotiate to ensure that the good relations built up over many years can be passed on to future industrialists.
The total population of South Tipperary is 75,000, so the impact of these job losses is huge. Tipperary town has also lost 300 jobs in Mass Mutual since last January. Apart from the creamery and the Atari plant, the industrial base of that town has been wiped out. To date the IDA has failed to find a replacement for Mass Mutual but one hopes it changes tactics and puts in new incentives for the Tambrands plant.
Carrick-on-Suir has lost the Schiesser plant. The closure of the tannery factory ended most of the male employment in that town, which made women the sole income earners in many households, but now their income is gone also. Their future is uncertain and their confidence has been wrecked. Schiesser was the main employer in that town and the two replacement industries employ 100 in one case and between 11 and 30 in the other.
What efforts have the IDA and the Minister made to ensure that Schiesser does not move to somewhere more profitable like India or Bangladesh where it can pay labourers £40 a week to replace a solid consistent workforce here? Only last year the workers in Schiesser were told they made an excellent product at an excellent production rate with good company relations, yet in a short period afterwards the company was gone.
The other issues which concern the Government in this matter relate to confidence about investment in these towns. The heritage centre in Tipperary town has not been supported by the Government to date. The Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht has not given it any money——
It is not in Galway.
——nor has the Minister for Tourism and Trade, yet £300,000 has been spent on it. It should be funded at least as a token gesture to ensure the community effort is rewarded. We await good news from the Government on its efforts in that regard. I am especially concerned about replacement industries being found because the workers and the unions, after a long period of good industrial relations, were treated with contempt.
Is it in order to give a minute of my time to Deputy Ferris and Deputy Ahearn?
Only if I receive a full reply.
It has happened in the recent past but in retrospect it is practice which the Chair discountenances. I take the view that Ministers ought not share time. The time available to a Minister or a Minister of State when replying to a Member in this House on a five minute Adjournment debate is limited enough without it being eroded by other Members expressing their views. In the circumstances I find myself in an invidious position, with my Tipperary colleagues involved and a tragedy in industrial affairs in my constituency. I will allow it for tonight but I want the House and the Committee on Procedure and Privileges to take note of my view on this matter. The practice is clearly, in my opinion, to the disadvantage of the Member who raised the issue and the limited time available to a Minister or Minister of State should not be eroded by any device. Members of this House are entitled to the fullest possible information when they raise a matter by way of parliamentary question or Adjournment debate. In the circumstances I will allow it but I will rule as I have outlined on the matter unless this House decides otherwise.
I welcome the opportunity to speak and thank the Minister of State for allowing me a few moments. I live in the town where the factory closed and represent the constituency in which all these jobs have been lost. They were all good employers who gave excellent employment to their workforce. The workforce was excellent also, as has been recognised by the companies. In the process of negotiating the redundancy package I call on both companies to be generous with these top-class workers. One should also put on record the performance of the Minister and Minister of State on these issues when they were brought to their attention, the top priority given to South Tipperary because of the job losses and the setting up of the inter-agency group under the chairmanship of Mr. Barry Condren.
I have no doubt that if those who have another agenda stopped running down the towns involved and calling them dead towns or ghost towns, we would be successful in ensuring that alternative investment is found. It is already happening in the case of Tambrands and Mass Mutual in Tipperary town. I hope it will also happen in the case of Schiesser and bear fruit. We are anxious to promote all possible avenues for incoming industrialists. I am making every effort in my contacts with the IDA and Ministers. I am delighted with the results so far and we will continue to work with them.
Thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for your generosity, I appreciate the concerns you mentioned. I share the dismay expressed by Deputy Davern and Deputy Ferris about the extraordinary bad news for South Tipperary last week. Nevertheless we should not further demoralise people who find themselves without employment by implying that replacement industries will not be found or that we are facing a hopeless position. I was comforted by the positive response from the Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, first in setting up the inter-agency group to promote South Tipperary for replacement industry and second in the assurance that, for him, South Tipperary is as much a priority for replacement industry as anywhere else in the country.
We fully appreciate that the employment base in Tipperary town has been shattered by the two closures. The Minister should remember that Schiesser International employed a predominantly female workforce and I hope that their skills and expertise will be used in a replacement industry. I will be optimistic and work with my colleagues to ensure Tipperary will remain a priority for replacement industry and that all the stops are pulled out to do this without delay.
There are two minutes left for the Minister of State to reply.
I am fully aware of the serious social and economic problems arising in South Tipperary, especially from the pending closure of the Tambrands plant in Tipperary town and the Schiesser plant in Carrick-on-Suir with the loss of 370 jobs. These serious job losses will undoubtedly have a significant adverse impact on the local economy and add to job losses earlier this year from the closure of the Mass Mutual health claims processing operations in Tipperary.
As the Deputy is aware, the Tambrands plant, which is US owned, is a long established manufacturer of tampons in Tipperary town affording employment to 220 people. The German Schiesser Group is also a long established clothing employer in Carrick-on-Suir and Clonmel providing employment to 300 people.
The plant closures and redundancies arise from world global restructuring in both cases because of market competitive pressures and also involve closures and substantial job losses in sister company plants overseas. Despite our best endeavours at avoiding such job losses, the responsibility in the final analysis for these decisions rests with the companies themselves.
Top priority is being given by the industrial development agencies to finding replacement industries for Tipperary and Carrick-on-Suir and the availability of existing factories for new industry will be marketed aggressively. The high quality workforces available should be a valuable asset in the industrial promotion campaign which is being vigorously pursued.
As already announced, my ministerial colleague, Deputy Richard Bruton, has established an inter-agency enterprise group to address urgently the problems arising from the plant closures in Tipperary and Carrick-on-Suir and the need to attract replacement industries. The Minister referred specifically to the establishment of this group when he met a delegation from County Tipperary, comprising public representatives, trade union and local interests, last Saturday. He assured the delegation that the areas affected by the pending closures would receive top priority attention in the ongoing drive to attract new inward investment.
The group, which had its first meeting on 20 September, will focus on ensuring that the plants are available for alternative industry, providing assistance for worker training and retraining opportunities and assisting workers interested in establishing new ventures.
Local support is a key factor in addressing plant closures and redundancies; local community and business interest groups have an important role to play. In this context, I am confident of full co-operation from public representatives, trade unions, business and other interests in supporting the inter-agency enterprise group and the development agencies in their challenging and difficult task of seeking alternative industry and jobs for the redundant workers.
The co-operative efforts of all interests concerned will facilitate the attraction of much needed investment and jobs to the South Tipperary area and thus help to ensure a brighter future for all concerned.
I acknowledge the concerns articulated by Deputies representing the constituency, particularly Deputy Davern's point about the manner in which some closures were announced recently. Deputy O'Rourke may have been gilding the lily when she referred to the glamorous daily announcement of new job projects. Fortunately we are in a position where, perhaps not daily but on a weekly basis, significant additions have been made to the jobs base here, but this peremptory pattern of withdrawal without any recognition of the long service of workers and good industrial relations at the Tambrands plant, in particular, is not acceptable and I would not like to see it become a pattern here.