Adjournment Debate. - Threatened Closure of Cork Plant.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this matter on the Adjournment and the Minister for being present in the House to reply. I wish to share my time with Deputies Ned O'Keeffe and Mulvihill.

That is satisfactory.

The future prospects for this plant have improved significantly since I attempted to raise the matter on the Order of Business this morning. While I was glad to hear this, the future of the jobs at Youghal Carpets continues to be of concern. I appeal to the Minister to use his influence to secure the future of the plant and the majority of the 320 jobs. The workforce at Youghal Carpets (Yarns) Limited is highly skilled and motivated. It has undergone extensive restructuring in recent years and operates to high efficiency and low cost levels. It is important to acknowledge this.

The unemployment figures for Cork city continue to be unacceptably high. For example, the number on the live register increased from 17,106 in November 1994 to 17,280 in November 1996. Since then Cork Crown at Holyhill has closed with the loss of 110 jobs. Even as I speak, a number of jobs in the road haulage sector are seriously at risk because of the difficulties at Bell Lines Freight Transport Group. I appreciate that some new jobs have been created in the Cork area but they have not kept pace with the number lost. As I have previously stated in the House, it is just as important to save existing jobs as it is to create new ones. I ask the Minister to spare no effort in ensuring that the majority of these jobs are secured for the future.

I welcome the news that a compromise has been reached and that Youghal Carpets has once again been saved from closure. However, this ongoing saga cannot continue and there must be greater consolidation of the industry in that area. The yarn and textile industry cannot continue to endure the stop-go policy pursued in recent years. The number of jobs created in the textile industry last year was 282, approximately half the number of 558 created in 1992. This is not satisfactory. The people in the south west cannot continue to be left without industries.

I was saddened this morning to hear of the problems at Youghal Carpets. The majority of jobs are created in the Dublin region and the people of the south-west were the losers last year in terms of job creation. We have a Dublin oriented Government but this does not mean it should ignore the south-western area. Last year 1,189 jobs were created in the south-west, one of the largest areas in the country. In 1990, 10,254 jobs were created. When I previously stated that the people of the south-west were the losers in terms of job creation the Minister denied it. I do not want to be too political or hurtful but I want him to address the problems in the south-west and the surrounding regions. I welcome the limited number of jobs created in the south-west but we want more flagship industries. Cork and its surrounding regions are very progressive and if Youghal Carpets had closed we would have lost another flagship industry.

I thank Deputy Quill for sharing her time with me. This is not the first time she has done so.

Youghal Carpets (Yarns) Limited in Cobh is a unique industry. To the best of my knowledge, it is the only plant in Ireland which dyes and spins yarns for use in carpet making. Its workers have built up great skills over the decades and the Government cannot turn its back on them. Countless Government agencies have been set up to help industries in trouble and it is time they took action in this crisis. I ask the Minister to send his best official to Youghal Carpets tomorrow to ensure all possible steps are taken to save the jobs and help keep this valuable industry in the east Cork region where there is high unemployment. I accept that 700 jobs were created in a factory in Youghal some months ago but the loss of 320 jobs in this plant would be a catastrophe for the area.

I thank the Deputies for raising this important issue. They will be aware that the future of Youghal Carpets was discussed in the House before Christmas. At that stage I outlined the background to the changes which had taken place in the company in recent years and the ultimate decision by the current owner, Carpets International, to divest itself of all its axminster carpet operations. I also indicated that there would be full co-operation between the State agencies, particularly the IDA, in the efforts to sell the business as a going concern.

I had established from my contact with the company that Carpets International would fully co-operate in the efforts to secure a prospective buyer which would help to protect the maximum number of jobs at the plant. On 17 December I met a number of local public representatives and the union delegation and assured them that every effort would be made to keep the plant open. I have kept in very close contact with developments and I was hopeful in recent weeks that a deal could be completed with a potential buyer.

As part of the sale agreement being negotiated, the workforce was to be presented with a restructuring package. The parties availed of the services of the Labour Relations Commission prior to finalising the proposals to be presented to the workforce. These were presented at a general meeting of the workforce last Monday. While some of the workforce accepted them, the majority declined to vote and as a result the proposed sale could not proceed. In the light of this development Carpets International informed the workforce of its intention to cease operations with a loss of 315 jobs.

As the House may be aware, today I requested the Labour Relations Commission to place an officer on standby in Cork this afternoon to provide any further assistance to the parties in an effort to finally resolve matters. I have been informed that the restructuring proposals were discussed further at a meeting of the workforce this afternoon and a vote was taken on the package. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions has indicated that the unionised workforce at Youghal Carpets had accepted the position put forward by the company. This decision has been conveyed to Carpets International and the prospective purchaser.

The situation remains delicate. I understand that the Labour Relations Commission officer on standby in Cork has convened a meeting of the company and unions tonight to consider the outcome of the ballot. I urge all sides to reflect very carefully on the current situation with the objective of securing a viable future for the company. I also urge them to take adequate time to work out the details and to make good sensible long-term decisions for the future. It is clearly in the interests of all parties to continue the endeavours to secure the future of the plant and to maximise its employment potential. I assure the House that the State's dispute settlement agencies and IDA Ireland will continue to be available to assist the parties in whatever way possible. A very experienced officer is on standby in Cork to assist the parties in their efforts to resolve the issue.