(Wexford): I thank the Chair for the opportunity to raise this issue on the Adjournment and I thank the Minister of State for coming into the House to reply. The decision by Irish Ferries to close the Rosslare to France shipping route from 3 November 1996 to 1 April 1997 — involving the loss of 400 staff on ship, 25-30 office workers and 20 people employed by the ship repair company — will have a devastating effect not only on the economy of Wexford but on the country.
This decision has been taken because of non-profit making winter sailings. It will mean that for six months of the year there will not be a passenger service from Ireland to the Continent and this will have a serious impact on our tourism industry not only in the south-east but across the country. It is reckoned that even in the off peak season up to 1,000 people per week travel here from France and further afield.
Irish Ferries is the largest carrier of livestock and at a time when the farming community is up in arms about BSE and the need for live exports, this decision will seriously affect cattle prices here. The impact of the decision on the tourism industry and the farming community will be a severe blow to the south-east economy. The job losses will have a devastating impact on Wexford, in particular, which has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. As I said, the proposed job losses include 400 staff on ship, 25 to 30 office workers, 20 workers employed in a garage that repairs the ships. Suppliers in the south-east, including suppliers of linen, clothing, food, duty free goods as well as the loss of business to bed and breakfast proprietors, hotels and restaurants and CIE workers who provide offshore services, will no longer be required. Total job losses in the south-east region will be in the region of 600.
The decision is a major blow to the people of Rosslare, the people in other parts of Wexford and successive Ministers who have invested substantial amounts in the development of Rosslare as a major Euro port. It is one of the finest ports in Europe and the decision by Irish Ferries will undermine operations in it.
Some of the reasons given for the proposed closure include the non-profit making sailings during the winter months. Brittany Ferries is subsidised to the hilt by the French Government and the Channel Tunnel and air fares are undercutting its prices. In an article in The Irish Times of 1 April 1993 Eamon Rothwell, managing director of ICG, predicted the decision that has been taken unless subsidies were forthcoming from the Government of the day, he said that foreign crews, who would not have to be paid as high a wage, would have to be employed on ships owned by Irish Ferries if the company were to survive.
I ask the Minister to seriously investigate how this decision can be rescinded, to ascertain the commitment of Irish Ferries to Rosslare because it is rumoured that there will be only one ship available for summer sailings, that the following year the company will review its operations and that in the following year it may withdraw its service altogether. The position is very serious. The decsion to withdraw the service has been taken without very much communication with the workers. I ask the Minister to give an assurance that he will investigate the possibility of the decision being rescinded in the interests of the workers, tourism and the livestock industry.