The Minister has indicated she will contribute later. The Minister will have 15 minutes; spokesmen ten minutes.
Digital (Galway) Redundancies: Statements.
I share the major disappointment and the trauma caused to the people of Galway by these job losses. One can only sympathise with the loyal and committed work-force who have a record second to none of performance and quality over the last 22 years. Digital, Galway, is a classic example of a company putting down deep roots in the community in a variety of ways. This makes these job losses all the worse.
The 780 jobs scheduled to go over the next 12 months are no reflection on the knowledge and skills of the workforce but are the result of the harsh trading conditions of the 1990s. Digital is trading on a global scene characterised by spectacular advances in technology and changes in customer preferences. The decision, as we have been told in the statement from Digital today, is a strategic one based on commercial criteria only, unrelated to the performance and quality of the work-force.
As a company it is at the cutting edge of modern human resource management. In that context, I would like to put on record my personal thanks to Digital who accommodated my post-graduate students at UCD over many years, who studied human resource management in that company. They have always treated people as a most important resource and integrated them into the other branches of the business.
Top management have always treated people as a key resource, that is their basic philosophy. They have invested heavily in careful recruitment selection and training; they have put a great value on improving the skills of the workforce. The nature of the industry lent itself to team work and to employee involvement and in a very real way Digital was a model of worker participation.
They have integrated themselves into the local community by supporting a whole range of local activities and, in particular — and I know this is near to the Minister's heart whom I welcome on her first visit to the new Seanad — they were linked to the local economy. Last year, the committee dealing with unemployment, of which I was a member, estimated that £1 billion worth of imports to multinationals could be produced in Ireland, providing valuable jobs. Here we had a case, albeit in very difficult circumstances, where there was a linkage between local production of parts and components and the major employer, Digital, in Galway. It is a good example of what can be achieved in terms of linkage. As I said, Digital supported a variety of local efforts and funded and was involved in research at UCG.
We have a very dynamic and difficult industrial environment. We have to know and understand that environment because, of the EC countries, we are the most dependent on exports and it is vital for us to be competitive. There is cutthroat competition for international mobile investment. There have been spectacular advancements in technology and Digital has been affected by shifts in customer demand and preference. Digital like so many other industries, has been affected by the slow-down in the international economy in recession. Six years ago there was investment in the Ayr, Scotland, plant which gives them a edge at this stage. Worldwide, Digital has lost heavily in the last two years. At the end of the day, commercial decisions are leading to job losses and this is not a reflection on a gifted workforce.
The question has risen as to whether the Government and its agencies could have done any more. I do not think they could. The visit to Boston by the Minister for Enterprise and Employment, Deputy Quinn, over the weekend was an important part of a very comprehensive effort made by the Government. I know that last Monday week the Taoiseach spoke directly by telephone to Mr. Palmer, head of Digital worldwide, pressing our case. The IDA has been tireless in its efforts on the industrial front, monitoring what is going on at Digital and helping with further incentives. The Government and the IDA have put the facts, the money and the arguments to Digital. We have, in economic terms at least — and that is very important — matched Scotland in every way.
We have a proven record of attracting industry to Ireland which sells into the European market. We do have competitive advantages here. Several electronics leaders are located in this country and export into the EC from here. However, Digital wanted a manufacturing presence where they have a big indigenous market. A quarter of its European sales are in the UK and it clearly had a need for a manufacturing unit there.
Looking to the future we know there will be a gradual phase out, of about 12 months. We know already from the Digital statement that they will provide a financial package and benefits for those who will lose their jobs. We saw the same enlightened approach when the plant at Clonmel was closed. We also know they are going to retain and upgrade their European software headquarters in Galway with 350 jobs. That is a vote of confidence, a reaffirmation, in the quality of Ireland and our software sector.
To offset the job losses the IDA, under the aegis of the Government, will increase their efforts to provide incentives to stimulate new and to expand existing small companies in the Galway area. It is important to find employment opportunities for these highly skilled and knowledgeable people who are about to be made redundant. It is also important, particularly in the light of the Culliton report, to search for employment opportunities in indigenous industries so that the skills of these industrial workers can be utilised here. In that context, I am reminded of the budget yesterday, where £25 million was allocated to the county enterprise boards, together with £100 million that will be made available from the financial institutions on favourable terms, for local enterprises. This money may provide timely venture capital required for small enterprises in Galway and elsewhere, to utilise the skills of these qualified people.
I share the deep concern and regret expressed at these job losses and look forward with some optimism to the future. The Government and its agencies will spare no effort to replace the jobs lost and to retain the experienced workforce.
Digital has been an integral part of Galway city and county for over 20 years. I have lived beside this large complex and have taken great satisfaction in its phenomenal growth and contribution to Galway city and county. Today, without a shadow of a doubt, is the saddest day, not only of my political but of my personal life also. Digital has been the fulcrum not only of Galway but of west of Ireland.
We are talking here about the loss of 800 jobs and the spin-off effect on over 3,000 families — minders of Digital employees' children and workers in office suppliers, car hire firms, care hire rental, taxi services, buses, milk suppliers, canteens, garages and flower shops. In my own parish — a typical rural one — of Turloughmore in County Galway, about one tenth of the working population will become redundant, many of whom have young families and heavy mortgages. Another western parish will be decimated. I shudder to think of the consequences of today's events in Galway. We are witnessing another striking blow to the west; the death knell of another town. I mean "town" because, without Digital, Galway city will be reduced to the status of a country town.
There will be a shade of sadness and gloom on that sun tonight as it goes down on Galway Bay. This is not the time for apportioning blame, but today's events are certainly not the fault of the marvellous workforce who have contributed so much to Digital International over the last two decades. The Digital workers worked far and beyond the call of duty. They made a major contribution to Digital, and to Galway city and its surrounds. It is incumbent on the Government to respond to the call of Galway above any other call that may be made on it at this moment. Galway is crying out for help and every means at the Government's disposal must be used to find a replacement industry immediately.
The IDA and the county enterprise board must be put on alert to find suitable replacement industry for Galway, and for the west. There is a special onus on the Ministers of the Galway West constituency to impress upon the Cabinet and upon their colleagues that Galway must be first in line for the next major industry, or foreign company to set up in Ireland. Galway's spirit of enterprise, location and workforce are second to none. Government initiative on a replacement industry is of paramount importance.
I welcome the Minister and thank her for coming. I would like to ask her a few questions. Is she prepared to put Galway at the top of the priority list for the next major industry? Has the Minister been in touch with Mr. Major, outlining our concern about alleged political interference in the choice of Ayr in place of Galway? Has our Government impressed upon Mr. Heseltine and Mr. Major the possible implications of this development for Anglo-Irish relations? Will a case be taken to the European Commission arising out of allegations concerning Digital? Are the Minister and the Minister for Labour committed to finding a replacement industry for Galway, and is there any possibility that one may be available at the moment? Can we hope for a formal announcement on this soon?
I am not going to criticise anybody; this is too sad a time for recrimination. The Government's handling of the recent currency crisis and the calling of an unnecessary general election have not helped. It was ironic that most of the British up-staging took place as our current Government leaders were jostling for power. The Government were not as sharp as the country would have liked them to be on this issue in this period of crucial importance for Galway. Our senior Galway Ministers have been strangely quiet on this issue which is why it is now incumbent on the Government to respond to the plight of Galway.
This is Galway's gloomiest day but a new dawn of hope must be created for the city. The Government must act; we are no longer content with pious aspirations and platitudes. The previous speaker attempted to minimise the blow to Galway but today's events spell a disaster for the west. I regret that my maiden speech in the Seanad should be made in this context. I consider today's speech to be the most important Seanad speech I will ever make.
Tá díomá ormsa agus ar mhuintir na Gaillimhe inniu gan dóchas. Tá an chathair i gcruachás agus ní bheidh an chabhair riachtanach le fáil acu ach amháin ón Rialtas. Tá dóchas i mo chroí go ndéanfaidh an Rialtas iarracht mhór ar son contae agus cathair na Gaillimhe agus go háirithe ar son oibrithe Digital atá ag cailleadh 800 post faoi láthair. Is é seo an lá is brónaí i stair na Gaillimhe.
I hope for an early and positive response to Galway's suffering at the loss of 800 jobs at Digital.
I understand Senator O'Sullivan is sharing her time with Senator Magner. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I would like to welcome the Minister to the Seanad. Like so many in this House and throughout the country, especially in Galway, I was saddened to hear the news of the loss of 800 jobs in Digital. While not altogether unexpected, the news had a devastating effect on all of us when it finally came through from Boston.
This is not a time for playing politics on this issue or for trying to make political capital out of the unfortunate plight of these 800 workers. On the contrary, it is a time for unity among all Members of the Oireachtas and for a positive rather than a negative response to this great tragedy. We should listen to the advice of Ms Janet Hughes a SIPTU representative in Galway who, although not representing the Digital workers, in expressing her concern for the plight of the workers as a trade union representative in the area appealed for restraint from destructive point scoring. She urged that we talk, and I quote: "not about what others have done to us but about what we can now do for ourselves".
The announcement was not unexpected. As can be seen from a brief look at the background to this event, the computer industry throughout the world has been undergoing rapid change and upheaval over the past four or five years. The market leaders in the field, IBM, Wang and Digital, have all suffered great losses and these losses have caused them to lose their leading places in the computer world. We have also seen the emergence, as major players, of companies like Del and Apple. In this volatile world relocation and casualties are inevitable, and today we saw the huge loss of jobs in the Galway area.
The writing has been on the wall for the Digital company for some time. Two years ago the company closed its Clonmel plant with a loss of approximately 300 jobs. This was a major loss to Clonmel. It was part of a worldwide cut which saw the loss of approximately 35,000 jobs worldwide in the industry. Unfortunately, multinational companies are here to make profits and they make decisions clinically on the basis of what is good for the company. Given this background, there was little or nothing the Government could do to effectively stave off today's sad development. Digital has been losing massive amounts of money and it is to be regretted that the Galway workers, through no fault of their own, are casualties of the financial situation. That is the basic reason for today's announcement.
Instead of having a lengthypost mortem on the situation, we would be better employed in trying to find alternative industries to absorb the 800 unemployed workers. While these workers will receive redundancies and pay-related unemployment benefit, these payments are a very poor substitute for regular, well-paid employment.
This House can be assured that my party will do all we can to preserve the remaining jobs in Digital and to seek alternative employment for the 800 workers in Galway.
I extend a welcome to the Minister, Deputy O'Rourke and thank her for coming to the House this afternoon to discuss the Digital crisis in Galway. Senator Cregan and I share a common history in this matter in so far as Cork suffered a more traumatic experience in terms of employment when Dunlop and Ford went within a very short time of each other. Cork fell into the trap of feeling that it was not simply that two factories had closed with the huge social implications; in some way the feeling was that Cork had been hit by an atomic bomb. For a long time it was quite impossible to get Cork to be positive about anything.
We followed the same road with appeals to the Americans in relation to Ford. The fact that Henry Ford was born in Ballydehob led some people to believe that one could go to a boardroom in Detroit and argue on that basis. The reality as we all know, despite what may be said, is that decisions taken by multinationals are not taken on the basis of historical links with any country. The decision taken by the Digital management was based on what they saw to be in the best interests of their company. It matters not a whit whether there was a currency crisis in this country in relation to the Irish punt or whether the Government spent six months putting itself together rather than six weeks, or indeed any of the other factors. While Government may have an ability to attract industry by way of attractive packaging and so on, it has very little control over a decision by a multinational company to go somewhere else. If the IDA is successful in attracting "mobile industry", it remains mobile forever. That is the reality.
Digital has been here for 20 years which is a long time for the computer industry. We were hoping that Apple computers would remain in Cork forever. We had a crisis less than 12 months ago and, luckily, the decision was made in our favour. Tonight they are celebrating in Scotland but, equally, Scotland could have been devastated if a different decision had been made. It is outside the scope of Government to influence in any significant way the economic decisions made by multinational companies.
Some criticism was made of the trip to Boston by the Minister, Deputy Quinn. There would have been a torrent of criticism if he had not gone. Ministers, generally speaking, would not take a plane trip to speak to a board if the IDA and other experts indicated to them the importance of going if there was to be any chance of changing people's minds. There is very little a Government can do once a decision is made in a boardroom in Detroit, New York or Texas to relocate or to close down a factory.
It is important for Galway to realise, as Senator O'Sullivan said, that it is pointless to attack the company because that will seem as if their contribution over the past 20 years, a most significant contribution, has been written off.
Another positive point is that Digital is remaining in Galway. Therefore, there is hope for the future. Their R and D section, as it grew once, can grow again as the markets change throughout the world. There is a need on all sides of the House to understand the problems. As much as we deplore the closure of a major part of that factory, there is also the need to welcome the fact that Digital have remained in Ireland, albeit in a very reduced form. Nonetheless, 350 jobs is a significant number in any area.
As regards the message we send to the workers in Galway tonight, it is that the Government must and will respond. If there is an 800 job plant in the pipeline I would like to know where it has been because we could do with it in many parts of the country, including my own city. The budget was designed to respond to unemployment not just in Galway but throughout the country.
It is a sad day for the workers in Galway but we should take heed of the advice given by the SIPTU representative who——
It is easy for her to talk.
It is easy for anybody to talk and that is the problem. Talk is cheap but talk can also be dangerous.
Where was the action? There was no action.
Senator Magner without interruption, please.
Perhaps Senator Taylor-Quinn has some formula she wants to put before us? All we can do at this point——
The formula is to get rid of the current Government.
——is to ask the Government for action and to extend our concern and sympathy to the workers of Digital in Galway.
I call Senator Henry who I understand is sharing with Senator Quinn. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I welcome the Minister to the House. I hope the Minister will address seriously the situation regarding the research and development area in Digital which is very closely allied with the university. The value of this cannot be under-estimated. The experience gained with Digital was important for graduates of Galway University. The availability of research and development facilities is important in our efforts to encourage other companies to set up in Ireland. As the withdrawal of Digital from Galway will take sometime there may be an opportunity to exploit the research and development facilities in the area. I have always advocated the provision of such facilities and I have worked in this area with pharmaceutical companies in the hope that it would help them keep a foothold in this market.
I am aware of the Minister's constant preoccupation with better training for people in every sphere of employment and I urge her to make this a most important part of all her efforts for the people in Digital. If some of Digital's expensive operations are kept in Galway and we show we are behind it from an educational point of view, this could be one area where we could put pressure on the Government.
May I also welcome the Minister. It was Senator McDonagh who said this is Galway's gloomiest day and, indeed, it is. I suggest that we look to the future rather than the past. It is not sufficient for us to attract industry here, we have to create the environment that keeps industry here and recognise that we live in a competitive world, where no industry survives unless it manages to maintain and hold unto its customers and basic bankers. It is not easy for any industry — whether it is a small shopkeeper, a one person trader or a large multinational — to do both but those who survive do both. If we have a task to do in Leinster House it is to help run that company called "Ireland Inc." and recognise that if we want customers we must look to those people, whether individuals or large industries, who are going to set up here and create business and, therefore, create jobs.
I am concerned that we have not always recognised that. We believed that it is up to the Government to create jobs. I suggest that we remember the words President Clinton used a couple of weeks ago when he said it was his belief that it was a government's duty to steer, not to row. If we are going to attract successful enterprises in future, we, in this House, have to recognise that our functions is to listen to our customers and see what we can do for those who may be attracted to establish industries here. I hope many of them will have their roots in Ireland and will establish industries here because the environment is suitable for their purposes. I hope that what we have learned from this sad day in Galway will give us not just food for thought but fuel for action. I hope I remember correctly: "éist le fuaim na habhann agus gheobhaidh tú iasc", "listen to the sound of the river if you want to catch a fish." As a nation, we should recognise the marketplace is like that river. If we create the environment that attracts industries here.
I wish the Minister well in her new position. I am aware that she is conscious of the impact this closure will have not only on Galway but throughout the region. The economic impact of the Digital closure will affect many families and the economies of many towns in counties adjoining Galway. The laying off of personnel will have a major detrimental economic impact on the region and will cause distress and hardship for the many families employed in this and in ancillary industries. It is important that we look to the future but it is equally important to remember that many families are very distressed by what has happened. All the resources of the State must be available to ensure that the people directly affected by the closure will be taken care of pending alternative arrangements being put in place.
The major challenges facing industry today are keeping abreast of the changes in technology and ensuring a supply of trained personnel who are capable of dealing with these changes. It is vital that all the State agencies would provide scientific and technological advice and that capital resources would be made available for retraining so that these highly skilled people can find employment, perhaps not in the same type of industry but in new ventures. We must salvage as many jobs as possible in Digital.
As has been said by many speakers already, the closure will have a devastating effect on the economy of the region. Nevertheless, I think the regions are capable of dealing with this situation. I would like to express appreciation for the endeavours of the Taoiseach, the Minister for Enterprise and Employment, Deputy Quinn, the Mayor of Galway and all the public representatives from Galway and other counties who have spoken about the necessity to take urgent action to deal with this crisis. We need to mobilise all the goodwill that exists at this time.
Over the years at Shannon and in my constituency of Clare we have had many closures which impacted severely on these areas. Recently, a multinational withdrew from Shannon leaving many people unemployed. Under new management that company is stronger today than ever. It formed a partnership with an American company, and this reorganised, modernised, sophisticated plant at Shannon now provides employment for many more people than were originally employed there. We must look to the future and find ways to utilise the highly skilled personnel in Galway and adjoining counties.
I urge the Minister to use her influence with the Industrial Development Authority, the State agencies in the technological and training area and, if necessary, the European Community to provide support to deal with this crisis which will have a severe impact on the economy of the area. We must not allow this crisis to further depress the economy of the region. We must find ways in which we can cope with the crisis and find hope from what is a very sad situation at this time. Let us find immediate and urgent solutions to the problem and let us not neglect the people who are highly skilled, professional and up to date in their work at the plant.
We have strict time constraints. I am calling the Minister at 3.45 p.m; Senator Taylor-Quinn has approximately six minutes.
I understood earlier today that we were to have an open-ended debate, that as long as there were people wishing to speak time would be allowed. I understand that was the agreement of the House.
Today the Order of Business was there would be agreed: statements from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m.
If you recall, this was raised by the leader of our group this morning and the Leader of the House stated that there would be an open-ended debate to allow Members to contribute.
We are wasting time at the moment. The Order of Business was agreed, namely, that we would take Items 1, 2, 3 and 4, all Stages of Item 4 to be brought to a conclusion at 4 p.m. and statements on Digital from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m.
A Chathaoirligh, if this is what the Government thinks about the loss of 800 jobs in Galway, merely providing an hour in Seanad Éireann to debate such a fundamental and serious matter, it reflects the performance and behaviour of the Government in relation to this issue.
Senator, the Order of Business was agreed by the House.
May I declare my interest in this matter. My husband is an employee of Digital in Galway. I put it to you and to this House that this is not just a closure in Galway, this is a transfer of the Galway operation to Ayr eventually. The plant in Ayr is producing hardware at the lower end of the market. What is being produced in Galway is hardware at the medium to high end of the market. Four weeks ago the Galway factory was safe, today it is being closed.
The question has to be addressed in this House: why is the Galway factory being closed? The reality is that there was political interference in the United Kingdom and our Government was not alert and was notau fait with the situation. They were far more concerned with making arrangements regarding Ministers and programme managers; they were more concerned with their personal and inter-party shenanigans rather than the national interest and the interests of Digital employees in Galway and in Counties Mayo, Clare, Roscommon and Westmeath. That is the reality. It is most unfortunate such a serious situation was allowed to develop.
I listened to the Minister speak on the matter in the Dáil. He spoke about being in daily contact with Digital since he took office and, despite all the Government's efforts, of being unable to dissuade Digital from leaving Galway. The facts are that there was a very poor showing made by this Government in attempting to dissuade Digital. The first serious political approach was when the Minister travelled to Boston last Saturday morning, two days after the decision to close Digital had already been made in Maynard. I find that type of behaviour hypocritical in the extreme and completely negligent. We had the Minister travelling to Boston after the decision had been made merely to create the illusion that something was being done.
The workers in Galway deserve very serious consideration in relation to this matter because they are the most excellent workforce in the Digital corporation. In all assessments, at managerial, workforce and productivity levels, they have been at the top in Europe. They were the jewel of Digital in Europe. In fact, in the last quarter or the previous quarter they outshone the best plant in the United States of America; yet, it is now being closed. Is that not poor compensation for the unfortunate people who have given of their best, who have worked diligently, conscientiously and unselfishly in the interest of Digital in Galway? Today they lose their jobs with hardly a "thank you".
This Government was not in a position to argue coherently and cogently the strong points that could have been made. I listened to the Minister in the Dáil at Question Time yesterday telling us what he did when he went to Boston. I could only think, what hope had we when such a weak case was made. The facts are that this Government failed at European level last week to put strongly to the Commission the irregularity that had occurred. We had our EC Commissioner, Mr. Flynn on television, again creating the political illusion that something was being done. The reality was the Government did not put enough effort into their attempts to put our case to Europe. There was a very strong lever there for the Government to use and they failed to use it.
They also failed to highlight to people at Digital headquarters the considerable tax incentives that exist here. They failed to emphasise the expertise and talent of the experienced workforce here. In consequence the entire work in the medium to high range hardware will be transferred to a plant in Ayr in Scotland where the people there had neither the experience, the equipment nor the expertise necessary for the job. The facts are, the lower end of the market used to be produced by Digital in Ballybrit and the workforce in Galway had the expertise to take on what was being produced in Ayr but, again, the Government could not persuade the company to take that course.
It is a serious reflection on the Government. They have been caught napping at a crucial time in the economy of the west of Ireland and at a crucial time in the nation's economy. We are in a crisis. It is not just a question of 800 jobs being phased out within the next year. As Senator McDonagh said, approximately another 2,000 jobs are dependent on Digital.
With such a huge loss of jobs, the IDA and the other agencies will have to concentrate on Galway. In turn, that will affect other areas, including unemployment blackspots, in Cork, Clare, Dublin and elsewhere.
What has happened in Digital, combined with the debacle of the devaluation of the punt, has added greatly to the problems of the country. The Government must take responsibility, and specific Ministers must take responsibility. I am not referring to the Minister in this House today because I have high regard for Deputy O'Rourke. The Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the two Ministers in Galway city must take responsibility. One Minister in particular, Deputy Michael D. Higgins, was far more interested in what was happening in Mullaghmore, whether a building should be erected. That was his interest, while in his own constituency——
That is nonsense and the Senator knows it.
Eight hundred jobs were wiped out. That is the reality. It is all right for Senator Magner to sit in his cosy Seanad seat but if he was a Digital employee in Galway he would not be so cosy.
Your time is nearly up Senator.
The Minister has not risen. The Minister, Deputy Higgins, has been conspicuous by his absence, and by the absence of his usual persuasiveness on this very serious issue. I hope Senator Magner does not take this personally.
I always take cheap attacks personally.
I am speaking of a Minister who has not acted in the interest of his constituency. He was far more concerned with what was going on in my county of Clare. That is the reality. There is still an opportunity to scale down the plant over the next 12 months. The Taoiseach should take himself to the United States, meet senior Irish American politicians and the senior people in Digital in Maynard Massachusetts.
There are many other issues I am not prepared to put on the record but the Taoiseach, the Minister for Employment and Enterprise and the IDA should be aware of them and should use them to strengthen their bargaining position. They do not, unfortunately, seem to have used all the bargaining power available to them, which is of little succour to the people of Galway. I hope a message will be sent from this House to ask the Taoiseach to make a further attempt before the scale down process starts, to retrieve the situation. That should not be impossible. Certain political developments in the United Kingdom associated with the job losses at Digital must be seriously followed up at European Commission level immediately.
I welcome all the new Senators, to this lovely Chamber and I wish them well in the years ahead. It is a reflection of the anxiety caused by developments at Digital that this matter is currently being debated by the other House also. Charges are often unfairly levied at the Seanad — I was a Senator for two terms — that it is not relevant to current developments, does not take issues on the hoof, so to speak. This is not so on this occasion. The Minister, Deputy Quinn, is present for the debate in the other House. I chose to hear what people had to say before making my response. I would like to thank those who contributed, Senators Hillery, McDonagh, O'Sullivan, Magner, Henry, Quinn, Daly and Taylor-Quinn. I also thank those who did not get a chance to contribute; I know, from their alert expressions that many would have wished to.
The loss of 800 jobs at Digital is a serious and saddening issue, on which we are all agreed. I understand the feelings of Senators McDonagh and Taylor-Quinn in particular on the matter; the former from Turloughmore in the west of Ireland and the latter with a particular interest in the western matter.
We all share a same sense of desolation on this issue. Ireland is a small country, and at this time we all feel close to the west. As you know a Chathaoirligh for us in the midlands, Galway is literally down the road and workers in County Westmeath commute daily to Galway and to Digital.
We are at one on this issue and when we debated it in the Dáil on Tuesday I proposed framing a composite, agreed motion because I did not see why different messages should emanate from the debating Chambers when all want to do the best for Galway. I realise that two days have passed and today's announcement indicates that developments have taken place in that time. I was struck by Senator Henry's mention of research and development. We have a chance now, in the 12 months scaling down period, to put every effort into, the maintenance and enhancement of that facility which is to remain at the Digital plant. If the IDA, Eolas, Bord Trachtála and all associated State agencies applied their muscle and might it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the centre of research expertise and excellence, which was built up through the company's links with University College Galway, the Regional Technical College and other agencies there, can be developed further. Surely the accumulated expertise should not be contained solely within that group of albeit highly skilled workers who will, as of now, remain in Digital.
Digital reaffirmed today that the Galway plant will be upgraded to become one of its two global locations for software development and that this new development will be phased in. In addition, the IDA has clearly said — Kieran McGowan spoke on radio and television today — that it aims to make replacement industries for Galway an immediate priority. I have been asked by Senator McDonagh if that is the aim of the Government. Yes, it is. The Government's aim, and that of the agencies concerned, is to channel all energies and resources available into enlarging the remaining facilities, and finding replacement industries to re-employ the people leaving Digital, who as all speakers have said, are a highly resourceful and motivated workforce.
As we debate the issue here we feel a sense of kinship nationwide with those affected by what has happened at Digital. The overwhelming message from this debate will be that Government Ministers and Dáil Deputies must commit themselves through combined efforts to bringing pressure to bear on appropriate authorities. No one should leave here thinking that this debate is over. I know a Chathaoirligh that you and your fellow Senators will ensure that that will be the way forward.
Kieran McGowan, the IDA's Managing Director, has said that the subcontractors to Digital will remain the preferred suppliers to the Ayr facility. That may seem a small point but it is significant. We must ensure that this becomes a firm commitment, not just two lines in a press release. The suppliers to Digital in Galway must become, not the preferred suppliers, but the real ones. That is not too much to ask in the overall context of developments at Digital.
I pledge the following; an unremitting, relentless effort by everyone concerned, in Government and State agencies, to enhance the remaining facility at Digital with the possibility of making it a world facility, serving not only Digital but supplying related components to other firms and plants. I also pledge that every effort will be made, sustained and followed through by the Government and its agencies to locate alternative plants and industries in Galway so that, within the scale down time frame announced by Digital, substitute employment will be made available and extra jobs created if possible.
Throughout the debate we heard justifiable expressions of anger from Senators about certain tactics of the UK Government on this issue. This afternoon the EC Competition Commissioner, Karel Van Miert has acceded to the Government's request and will now formally seek information from the UK authorities in regard to the allegations made. One might say, "So what?" This matter was brought up by Senators and all allegations will now be thoroughly investigated. The publication of the results of this investigation will ensure that wrong actions, if revealed, do not recur.
Finally, and this is not an adversarial tactic against my colleague, Senator Taylor-Quinn, whose strong feelings on this matter I recognise, it was not lack of effort by any Minister, past or present, which led to the Digital decision. I have read all the relevant background information and I have been fully briefed on this matter and I can truthfully say that there was no softening, weakening, lack of knowledge, no cop-out. As Mr. Kieran McGowan said on radio today, there was a clear understanding until two or three weeks ago that the facility would be fully retained. We put forward a strong case based on the experience and level of commitment of the workforce and on the equipment already at the plant. I am not known as a person who defends for the sake of defence, but I repeat, there was no lack of commitment on the part of the Government.
However, that is in the past. Now, we must face the task ahead of us which is to ensure that Galway resumes its rightful place as the centre of excellence in the computer world.
When is it proposed to sit again?
It is proposed to sit at 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 3 March 1993.