I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this important topic for debate. The topic in question concerns the peremptory and sudden announcement by Imperial Tobacco last Thursday that it will close its manufacturing facilities in Mullingar from October next with the loss of 87 quality jobs. The company did so on the day the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation attended important events at the National Life Sciences & Engineering Expo in Mullingar. The company says the decision to close resulted from the implementation of the EU directive that set the minimum size of tobacco packs and the weight of hand-rolled tobacco packs at 30g. Essentially, this led to a significant number of production lines that produced smaller sizes of hand-rolled tobacco being decommissioned. Not everyone is convinced by this explanation and there is no reference to the decline in consumption or anything else. The production line will move to the Netherlands. Where is the Netherlands located? It is not Asia or the Americas. The Netherlands is in the heart of Europe and the same EU directive applies there so not every worker is convinced by the explanation that has been provided.
No prior indication that the plant was in difficulty or in danger of closure was given to anybody involved, particularly the loyal employees. Did the company even extend the courtesy to the early warning section in the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to alert the Minister that it intended to drop this bombshell upon unsuspecting employees, one of whom has well over 40 years of wonderful service and many of whom have in excess of 30 years of service in what was much-sought-after unionised employment with a good industrial relations environment and excellent terms and conditions? While the workers were left reeling and devastated by this bombshell announcement, the town of Mullingar was likewise stunned as the factory played a pivotal role in its economy for well nigh 50 years. Mullingar has had no IDA Ireland-backed factory or industry since 2000 and this business has moved on in the interim. Despite politicians of all persuasions and none, including myself, strongly advocating the case for the capital town of Westmeath, IDA Ireland has never prioritised Mullingar properly for investment.
We are asking the Minister to call on IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and other relevant agencies that deal with employment to immediately prioritise Mullingar, which is located in the heart of Ireland and equidistant north, south, east and west for foreign direct and indigenous investment. We have an excellent educated and mobile workforce, many of whom travel eastwards every morning to their place of employment. We have an excellent primary and secondary road network, a decent rail transport to Dublin, great primary and secondary educational facilities and a strong link to Athlone Institute of Technology, which is 30 minutes away, and NUI Maynooth, which is also 30 minutes away to the east. We also have wonderful leisure and recreational facilities and an open invitation from the local authority, chamber of commerce, trade unions and business interests. Establishing a wide-ranging task force is paramount at this stage. This is not a time for political game playing or platitudes and I assure the Minister that all public representatives at local level, including Deputy Troy and I, are united in our determination to promulgate the interests of Mullingar at this critical juncture.