Adjournment Debate. - Closure of Semperit Plant.

Deputy O'Rourke is aware of the procedure.

I am aware of the procedure, but I do not intend to proceed. I asked the Minister of State, Deputy Allen, earlier if he was taking this matter and he said he was not taking it. I do not intend to proceed because a relevant Minister is not present to reply. I have been a Member of the House for many years and I have not failed to attend for an Adjournment debate when summoned as a Minister or Minister of State or when I tabled a matter.

I am thoroughly disgusted and appalled at the treatment of the House in relation to important employment measures. I strongly condemn the disrespect shown to the Ceann Comhairle, Deputies and the House because a relevant Minister is not present to respond to the debate. Will the Ceann Comhairle relay my outrage to the appropriate quarter? I intend to raise the matter on the Order of Business.

Does the Minister of State intend to reply to the matter?

I am prepared to listen to Deputy O'Rourke's contribution and respond in kind. However, the Deputy is going over the top.

The Minister is present.

The business of the House collapsed. The Minister of State is now present, but the Adjournment debate was due to commence at 10 p.m.

That is not the case.

It was scheduled for 10 p.m. but the business of the House collapsed for various reasons and the Adjournment debate began ahead of time. However, the matter is academic because the Minister of State is present.

The Chair takes the view that the Adjournment debate is a most important aspect of the business of the House and should be treated with the utmost respect. I appreciate that the business of the House this evening broke down prematurely and Members and Ministers may have been taken by surprise. However, we try to give as much notice as possible of such occurrences and urge Members to treat the Adjournment debate seriously and with the respect and approval it should be accorded.

The Deputy said she was outraged.

I am outraged. In many years in the House I have not failed to turn up for an Adjournment debate. I take it seriously, as does the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, who came rushing into the House.

We should proceed with the debate.

The Adjournment debate was not scheduled for 10 p.m. The Bill was scheduled to continue, if necessary, until 10 p.m. One always watches for the Adjournment. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, for attending, but my outrage would have continued if he had not attended.

We will adopt the usual procedure.

I did not intend any discourtesy to the Ceann Comhairle, Deputy O'Rourke or the House. I did not anticipate that the House would conclude its business early and I apologise.

I thank the Minister of State for his courtesy. However, this is the correct procedure for Adjournment matters and not the disgraceful manner in which it was taken earlier.

I ask the Minister, the Minister of State and the Department to take a tough line with Semperit regarding the plant. We are not supposed to discuss the IDA, but the Ministers are responsible for it and I intend to mention it. A more robust line should be taken with Semperit in relation to the equipment at the factory and access to the plant for potential buyers. The IDA has been taking it rather softly with Semperit and appears to agree the company will have the right to say who will set up instead of it, who will buy in and who will have access to the factory.

I am most alarmed that the IDA more or less accepted without public complaint Semperit's decision not to leave the equipment and technology at the Ballyfermot plant. I was even more outraged when I read at the weekend that Semperit refused access to the factory to a Korean company which expressed an interest in buying the Irish operation. Semperit has a responsibility to Ireland. It received millions of pounds in grants over the years and has a loyal workforce. It has made millions of pounds in profits and it needs to be sharply reminded of this. Since the IDA is not responsible to the House, I call on the Minister to ensure the IDA gets tough with Semperit, even at this stage.

I am taken aback at the line taken with regard to the IDA. Its appears to accept as fact that it should allow Semperit away with its outrageous claim that it has full rights over what happens to the technology, who visits the factory and who takes over the operation. How much IDA funding went into this technology? A visit by the Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, to Germany on the day he received the news that the factory was closing was a kick in the teeth for the Semperit workers. Last May I stated here that I had heard, through trade union contacts, that plans were afoot to close Semperit. I was not reassured by the Minister's answer and I have now discovered he did not visit the parent company until he ignominiously went to Germany when the closure was announced. In contrast, the Austrian Government took a strong line and, while jobs were lost in its firm, it retained the open plant. The Minister is at a disadvantage in negotiating our position.

The millions of pounds Semperit received in aid from the IDA should be used as a lever to achieve access to the plant for potential buyers. Despite the glamorous announcements the Government makes on a daily basis about the creation of new jobs and its talk of a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, little attention is being paid to sustaining jobs at home.

I thank Deputy O'Rourke for sharing time with me and I share her concern about the Government's inept preformance in this matter. It was generally known that moves were afoot in the Continental Group to close the Semperit plant in Ballyfermot. It is deplorable that, having maximised support from the Government through IDA grants, it should now be in a position to locate a plant in eastern Europe and expect European taxpayers to purchase its products. The plant made a profit of £5 million last year following rationalisation, redundancies, changed work practices and greater efficiencies on the part of the staff. The workforce complied with all the requirements necessary to maintain their employment but, because the multinational behaved in a deplorable manner and the Government was not aware of what was happening until it was too late, they have now lost their jobs. It is deplorable that the company should dictate to the Government and that the plant cannot be saved. I hope the Minister informs the House that nothing can, or will, be removed from the plant, that the IDA will purchase it and sell it on to a potential buyer rather than Continental keeping an oar in the water. Will the Minister ensure that there is no impediment to the ongoing sale of the plant so that jobs can be saved?

The announcement by the Continental Group of its intention to close the Semperit plant in Ballyfermot has been devastating not only for the workers and families directly involved but for the wider community also. The manner in which Continental handled the closure announcement was far from ideal. In particular, the workers in Semperit deserved to receive reasonable advance notice of the closure announcement.

Our efforts now must be geared to attracting a buyer who will continue to operate the plant and to offer employment to Semperit workers. That must be, and is, our immediate and urgent priority.

At his meeting on 18 September with Dr. von Grunberg, executive chairman of Continental AG, my ministerial colleague, Deputy Richard Bruton, was given assurances that, in the event of the decision in relation to the plant not being favourable, there would be a phased wind down, discussions with staff representatives and the company would co-operate with IDA Ireland in its endeavours to secure a tyre manufacturer to purchase the plant.

The Minister had flown to Germany on the first intimation that there might be an announcement of imminent closure. Unfortunately, we must all recognise that corporate decisions which impact on employment are decisions for companies over which we have no control.

Following the announcement of the closure of the plant, the Minister instructed IDA Ireland to step up its contact with companies which might have a possible interest in purchasing the Ballyfermot plant. Accordingly, IDA Ireland is currently pursuing its programme of meetings with potential buyers for Semperit's plant in Ballyfermot. Meetings have been arranged with a number of potential buyers this week and it is hoped that site visits will be undertaken by some of these companies in the next fortnight. The Minister is currently in the United States and is scheduled to meet a prospective purchaser there later this week.

The Minister took a personal interest in Semperit for many months. There were talks with both management and unions about the closure of the plant and the possibility of finding a buyer. My view is that the option which we are pursuing of trying to find a suitable buyer for the plant is the best one available. I ask for the co-operation of all concerned to facilitate our efforts to secure jobs in Ballyfermot and surrounding areas which are not without difficulty. All these contacts are being pursued urgently and with utmost vigour.

Continental Group AG, the Semperit (Ireland) parent, has promised to co-operate fully in endeavours to sell the plant. The company confirmed these undertakings in a press release and Dr. von Grunberg has written to the Minister promising full co-operation with the IDA to find a purchaser.

I do not agree that the Government failed to take action in time in relation to the Semperit plant. From the first warning signs, the Minister and the IDA sought as a first priority to facilitate securing the future of the Irish plant and failing that, under present ownership, to facilitate a sale as a going concern.

The difficulties for the Ballyfermot plant had been signalled for some time.

In April 1996, the Irish management and unions had agreed on the implementation of a cost competitiveness plan. A further cost reduction programme was being considered by management. In May 1996, the Minister was aware of reports that the parent company was considering the future of each of its plants in Europe. At that stage there was not a specific threat to the Irish plant per se. Since then the Minister had a number of meetings with the management of the Irish company and with trade union representatives. IDA Ireland also had a number of meetings with both the Irish and Continental management and with possible investors who might have been interested in buying the plant.

The Minister for Enterprise and Employment's meeting with the chairman of the Continental Group in Frankfurt last week was a final — not a first, as implied by Deputy O'Rourke — attempt to persuade the Continental management to keep the plant open.

Undoubtedly, there will be difficulties in any negotiations about the price of the factory which is owned by Semperit and other issues such as proprietary equipment and technology to which both Deputies referred. However, given a willing purchaser these can be overcome through discussion and negotiation and the company has made it clear that it is not vetoing any prospective buyer.

I welcome that because I share Deputy Lawlor's concern that there should not be a veto on the prospect of a purchase by a suitable company, the least to which workers are entitled. If there is a real prospect of an alternative purchaser — and I believe there is — the sale should be facilitated by the present owners. If they want to restructure and get out of Ireland there is nothing we can, or would want to do to force them to stay. However, we can exercise influence to require them to sell the plant as a going concern.

The attractiveness of the company will be fully emphasised to prospective purchasers — it has a committed, flexible workforce, team workers, world class manufacturing techniques, ISO 9000 quality certification, gateway to European markets, 10 per cent corporation tax and so on. The difficulties of selling the plant should not be underestimated, but no effort will be spared by the IDA, the Minister or myself in the task of finding a buyer.