Adjournment Debate. - Job Losses.

: I am profoundly disappointed at the announcement last week that yet another 190 jobs are to be lost in the peninsula of Inishowen, County Donegal. I offer my sincere sympathy to all those families touched by this news who will inevitably have a very bleak beginning to the new millennium, contrary to the national trend. Many families will be affected not for the first time, and it will not be just one member of a family who will have to bear the brunt of a sore that is tearing away at the very fabric of society within the peninsula. My disappointment has been increased by two factors. The first is that this is yet another body blow to an area within County Donegal that has seen the loss, in the past year, of a significant number of jobs in Fruit of the Loom, Buncrana, the closure of Fruit of the Loom in Malin, Fingal Shirts in Moville, Jockey Underwear in Fahan, Glenveagh Mushrooms in Newtowncunningham and the list goes on. The second is that there has not been anything to replace these jobs which I have spoken about at various times in the past year.

We are in an area of high unemployment before one even looks at the job losses in the past 12 months. I accept that the Donegal Task Force Initiative was set up and has reported to Government. I acknowledge the tremendous work put into this, particularly by its chairman, and the work of agencies such as FÁS in dealing with the aftermath of all these announcements. Yet for those people, here we are 12 months on and really at the same point as at last October – facing these losses without alternative jobs being announced.

We are glad the long wait for information has been shorter on this occasion and that the Fruit of the Loom has given a projection of how things will progress over the coming months. We have to be optimistic that the redundancy packages will reflect the hard work and loyalty of all those involved. We would like to think, however, that having shed 190 jobs at this point the people remaining in employment will not only be secure in their employment but will have a job that reflects the high level output that these workers yield, so that they will not find themselves with a continually falling wage packet along with the associated blow to morale this brings.

Despite all that is happening in terms of enterprise throughout the country, I am very disheartened at the results to date in my own county and particularly in Inishowen. When one hears of companies in the South importing workers by the hundred from Scotland while we have a labour force ready and waiting it leaves everyone asking the same questions – why are our factories not even receiving outsourced work? Why are we not getting small factories that would negate the need for a mass importation of labourers? Why are we continuing to hear of hundreds of new call centre jobs being created in the capital and large towns that are already lost for employees? Why are we not recognised as being near the large urban centre of Derry and its associated port? How many other locations could boast of being half an hour from a regional airport and port and being less than two hours from an international airport and port? Can Dublin say the same? How many investors have been taken into the region through the new London-Derry air service that the Tánaiste's work last year helped to achieve? How many other places could offer the loyal, hardworking labour force that we have on hand? Where else in Ireland do we find the words: "We do not want our son or daughter to have to leave for America" on the eve of the new millennium? This should be a thing of the past.

I ask the Tánaiste and Minister of State to look at the immediate difficulties of the support for people to go back to third level education and for the support to go back to work. I ask them both to keep their focus and that of their agencies on us. I ask that the task force report is fully implemented.

It is recognised by the development agencies that we need both air access to Dublin from Derry and a direct train service. These services cannot be put on the long finger any more. Throughout the country there are regional airports being supported to provide very necessary and valuable social and economic services which may not be very profitable. Similarly, there are rail networks throughout the country except for those of us in the real north. We in north Donegal do not accept that we should be dismissed as peripheral or inaccessable. That is too easy. Large industries like Fruit of the Loom have survived successfully for a number of years. We need aspects of our infrastructure to be given the same priority that all other counties have received down the years, if we are to become closer to Dublin, which is what State agencies based in Dublin seem to require. With the assistance of the Tánaiste and her cabinet colleagues I expect this will be resolved. We are not being greedy. We are asking for what has not reached us – a rail and air link to Dublin and fair decentralisation of the jobs being created as is the stated policy of the State agencies. I ask the Minister of State to ensure that the Inishowen Millenium Project will be good news on the jobs front and let us start the millennium now.

Fruit of the Loom informed its workforce and the unions on 28 October last that the company would implement a number of measures to maintain its competitiveness in the marketplace. Whereas 65 per cent of employees in fabric and sewing operations have been engaged in short time working, the company plans a return to full time working for all employees over the next four weeks. Full time working will resume for all employees subject to phased start-up.

These adjustment measures will result in the implementation of 190 redundancies in the fabric, sewing and services departments at Buncrana. The redundancies will take place in January 2000. The company has indicated that these measures were decided after continuous revision and assessment of employment levels against requirements for the year 2000. While I regret that these redundancies will take place, the company has explained that they are as a result of aligning its future capacity requirements with its future order book. It is envisaged that the redundancy terms will be as previously agreed, subject to negotiation and employee ballot.

Although the business will continue to react to challenges in the marketplace, further job losses are not anticipated next year. The effect of these measures is that the company expects that approximately 1,000 jobs will be maintained at the Buncrana plant through next year. This is a significant improvement on the company's earlier expectations. The company is committed, moreover, to maintaining, at a minimum, an employment level of 600 jobs at the Buncrana plant until at least the year 2006. The IDA continues to actively market the vacant Fruit of the Loom premises in Donegal. In so far as the plant in Malin is concerned, Enterprise Ireland is currently in negotiation with a company in relation to locating a new business there. For reasons of client confidentiality, we are not in a position to give any further details at this stage. I hope projects will be found for all three plants.

Regarding the Donegal Employment Initiative, the report which has been submitted to me presents a detailed analysis of the development challenge facing the county and recommends a seven year development strategy to implement the investment priorities identified. The timing of the presentation of the report enabled the investment programme which it recommended to be considered in the context of preparing the National Development Plan for the period 2000 to 2006. Sustainable economic and employment growth and the promotion of balanced regional development will be among the key objectives of the National Development Plan. It will also include measures to tackle Ireland's infrastructural deficit as a potential major constraint on competitiveness, economic progress and social development. The report of the Donegal Task Force makes a wide range of recommendations which are consistent with these objectives.

On the recommendation of my colleague, the Tánaiste, the Government decided that all relevant Departments should examine the report and consider the investment priorities it proposes in drafting the operational programmes of the National Development Plan. The Tánaiste will meet the chairman and members of the task force shortly to discuss follow-up action on the report. The Government wants to bring the north-west on-line and into the new information society. There are a number of factors critical to the success of this plan: the extension of broadband connectivity, across and throughout the regions; creating the awareness, knowledge and skills necessary, to create and fully exploit the huge opportunities in e-commerce; creating a business and regulatory environment conducive to investment, innovation and entrepreneurship, all essential ingredients in joining the information society. It has been recognised by the Government that Ireland's ability to move quickly to invest in and adapt broadband services would be one of the major influences on future competitiveness in the digital age. In November 1998 the Government authorised negotiations with prospective suppliers of global connectivity. Less than eight months later agreement had been reached with one such supplier, Global Crossing. This new state of the art telecommunications project will provide city to city broadband access to 24 cities and to the United States. It will involve the construction by the middle of next year of two telecommunications cables to the UK and the potential capacity of the cable will be 15 times the international capacity out of Ireland at the moment.

In July of this year the Government announced, in conjunction with the international connectivity deal, an agreement of nine contracts for the roll-out of broadband infrastructure to more than 120 centres throughout the country. This includes the installation of a 95 km high capacity fibreoptic cable along the west coast of Donegal from Bunbeg to Donegal Town and from Dunfanaghy to Falcarragh, serving all communities along the route.

The roll-out of broadband infrastructure to the regions will significantly enhance the attractiveness of these areas from the perspective of attracting quality industry. The improvement in telecommunications infrastructure throughout the country has the potential to create new and varied opportunities for many people across Ireland and especially in the northwest and Donegal in particular.

I assure the Deputy that the Tánaiste and I are in constant contact with the IDA, Enterprise Ireland and the county enterprise board. We are doing everything we can to ensure that the three vacant factories in Donegal will have new investment sooner rather than later. We are very optimistic about the future and we are confident that we will be able to maintain and sustain the huge skills base which exists for the great people of the Inishowen peninsula who deserve every opportunity as we face the new millennium with confidence.