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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 28 Mar 2000

Vol. 516 No. 6

Adjournment Debate. - Factory Closures.

(Wexford): A Cheann Comhairle, I thank you for giving me the opportunity to raise the closure of Wenaas clothing company in Enniscorthy. Enniscorthy and County Wexford have one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. The national average is between 4% and 5% while the average in Wexford is between 12% and 15%. The loss of over 40 jobs with the closure of the Wenaas clothing company has been a devastating blow to Enniscorthy and County Wexford. The company was involved in Enniscorthy for many years – it was known as the Janelle factory before it was taken over by Wenaas. The management of Wenaas has decided the company will close its operations in Enniscorthy, with the loss of up to 40 jobs, mainly those of skilled women.

This is a serious blow to the town which has caused a great deal of resentment. In the past three years, despite the Celtic tiger economy and the creation of thousands of jobs around the country, no new jobs have been announced for Enniscorthy and County Wexford. It is totally unacceptable that when the country is booming, there is not an even spread of new jobs around the country. The company has decided to close the factory and operate it as a distribution depot. The clothing will be manufactured in another country, brought back to Enniscorthy and redistributed throughout Ireland. This is unacceptable and I ask the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Treacy, to ask the State agencies what can be done to save the jobs at this late stage. I appreciate it will be difficult because the company management seems adamant that the closure will go ahead.

It is a shame that such highly skilled staff will now be thrown on the dole queues with no hope of finding jobs in other factories because they are particularly skilled in manufacturing clothing. It is imperative that the State agencies create a replacement industry for Enniscorthy as quickly as possible. We need an industry to replace the Wenaas clothing company but we also need an advance factory. Some time ago, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney, promised Enniscorthy an advance factory in 2000. Little has been said about this in the first three months of the year. I ask the Minister of State to comment on the progress of this advance factory. Is it expected to be built this year? If it is not, there will be political uproar in Enniscorthy.

The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment established a task force in County Wexford, headed by the county manager. Its report has been finalised and is in the Minister's Department for consideration. The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment will be in Wexford this Friday to meet with the task force and local politicians. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, to request that the Minister meets a delegation from Enniscorthy Urban Council and the local public representatives, Deputy Yates and I, regarding the closure of Wenaas and the proposed advance factory. It is imperative that this meeting takes place when the Minister is in the county next Friday.

It is unacceptable that Enniscorthy continues to lose jobs while in the past three years, thousands of jobs have been created around the country. We are not sharing in the increased employment resulting from economic growth. Wexford has the required infrastructure – Rosslare Port is the gateway to Europe. We have been unfairly treated by the State agencies, including the IDA and Forbairt. Direct intervention from the Taoiseach and the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment is necessary to ensure Enniscorthy and County Wexford receive their share of jobs in the future. I ask the Minister of State to convey to the Taoiseach and the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment that we are no longer prepared to accept the delay in providing much needed jobs for the people of County Wexford.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter on the Adjournment. I share fully his disappointment at the announcement of the job losses in the Wenaas plant, Enniscorthy, County Wexford. Wenaas Ireland was established in Enniscorthy in 1986 to produce high performance workwear for the European and Scandinavian markets. In recent years, the company also developed a significant customer base for tendered contracts for public bodies such as Eircom and the ESB. The parent company, Sigmunel Wenaas, is a Norwegian family-owned business and it also has operations in low-cost eastern European locations such as Poland and Lithuania. The Irish operation has been experiencing difficulties for some time due to the fact that the parent company could source its production from these plants in Poland and Lithuania more cost effectively.

Wenaas Ireland, which employed 51 people at 31 December 1999, has decided to restructure its plant at Enniscorthy. Manufacturing will, unfortunately, cease at the plant within days with eight people remaining in sales and distribution. FÁS has been in contact with Wenaas and has offered to put at their immediate disposal the following FÁS placement services. Interviews will be conducted with all those being made redundant. Access to FÁS job vacancies will be provided. Information and guidance will be provided on all FÁS interventions, for example, training programmes, schemes, courses, etc. In consultation with the company, and having identified the needs of the individuals, FÁS will consider the provision of special training programmes.

The overseas clothing and textile industry in Ireland has been in decline with employment declining from 6,700 people in 1998 to 4,170 people currently. The underlying factor in this continuing employment decline is a lack of competitiveness, particularly in the clothing sector where labour costs are high compared with alternative locations in north Africa and eastern Europe. It is anticipated that the industry will continue to decline over the next three to five years as companies continue to relocate to lower labour cost locations to remain competitive.

Recent closures in the sector highlight that, notwithstanding the recent success of the economy, retaining competitiveness in an international context remains a continuing challenge. Ireland needs to focus its efforts on attracting industry in sectors where we can effectively compete in a global economy. The emphasis for Ireland must be to concentrate on upskilling and retraining the workforce to meet the demands of this changing environment. The recent budget decision to establish a major new national training fund amounting to £120 million in 2000 is an indication of the Government's commitment.

In September last, my Government colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney, established the Wexford enterprise initiative to assist local interests to identify means of promoting a greater level of industrial investment, including attracting mobile international investment, into the Wexford region. This initiative is chaired by the county manager and includes representatives from IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, FÁS, representatives from commercial and business interests in Wexford, the education sector, social partners and the local authority.

The group has recently completed its report which will be formally presented to the Tánaiste when she visits Wexford later this week. This report, which is the result of the dedicated commitment and efforts of members of the enterprise initiative, sets out recommendations for the economic development of Wexford. I assure Deputy Browne that these recommendations will receive close consideration and attention from the Tánaiste, the Department and the relevant State agencies. I also assure Deputy Browne that I will convey his sentiments to the Tánaiste who meet the various interests in Wexford on Friday when she officially and formally receives the report. I will convey the Deputy's desires to the Tánaiste that he wishes her to meet Enniscorthy Urban District Council representatives, together with local Deputies. I am sure the Tánaiste will be pleased to outline to the group the current situation pertaining to the proposed advance factory in Enniscorthy.

The development agencies continue to emphasise County Wexford for new employment opportunities and will do everything possible to try to secure alternative employment opportunities for the Wenaas workers in the greater Enniscorthy area.