Adjournment Debate. - Job Losses.

I am again in the unfortunate position of having to draw the attention of the Minister and the House to yet another closure and a further major loss of jobs in County Wexford. Just over a month ago, the county was badly hit by the loss of 150 jobs at the Wexal factory in Enniscorthy. This week, my home town of Wexford is reeling from the announcement that the Wexford weaving factory is to close with a loss of 120 jobs.

Both of these were long established traditional industries in County Wexford and the job losses resulting from their closure will have a considerable knock-on impact in the county. There have also been similar closures in other parts of the country and the underlying trend in the live register figures has, unfortunately, begun to creep upwards again. The Minister admitted in the House yesterday that job losses this year were likely to be 15,000 up on last year. This points to the fact boom can quickly turn to bust. At the very least we are witnessing a slowing down in the economy and urgent action on jobs is required. One of the key promises in the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats programme for Government was the further encouragement of a home based industrial-manufacturing sector with export potential and balanced regional development. However, the Government has delivered on neither of these promises. The home based manufacturing sector is suffering a significant rate of attrition in terms of job losses and the Government has failed to honour its commitment to balanced regional development, as the experience of Wexford graphically illustrates.

Wexford has one of the lowest manufacturing bases in the entire country. Recent figures released by the Central Statistics Office reveal that it also has one of the lowest levels of per capita incomes in the State. The live register and labour force survey show that the south-east has not benefited from the economic boom to anything like the same extent as other areas. These are not just statistics, these are stories of human suffering, hardship and neglect. Despite the shocking succession of job losses in Wexford, the Government is doing little or nothing to find replacement jobs or to attract new industries to County Wexford.

The major employers in Wexford use traditional skills. This sector is under enormous pressure from international competitors and many of the jobs of those employed in it are vulnerable. As already stated, no effort is being made by the Government to support these jobs or attract new industries to the county. Reading through the list of new job announcements from the Minister, Deputy Harney, is a depressing experience if one happens to live in County Wexford, particularly if one's job is under threat or has recently vanished. Virtually every other part of the county seems to feature on the list. I do not begrudge other counties their good fortune, but I am convinced that Wexford is as entitled to its fair share as any other. The indisputable fact is that chronic industrial neglect has been visited upon Wexford since the Government took office. It is time those responsible for this neglect were called to account.

Government policy has been reversed by four Independent Deputies. I call on not only the Minister to respond and take action but also those Members who sustain the Government in office to take a stand and put Wexford first. There should be no more reports, analyses, investigations or task forces. What Wexford must have is an immediate and substantive jobs announcement.

(Wexford): I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the issue of the employment record in County Wexford. I thank the Minister for being present to respond to what we have to say.

I raised the issue of Wexal in Enniscorthy on the Adjournment about three weeks ago. I pointed to the serious situation in my home town and throughout County Wexford. Little did I think at the time that Wexford Weaving would also be put out of business.

There have been more than 300 job losses in the past three weeks in County Wexford, in addition to a number temporary lay-offs. As Deputy Howlin said, there are a number of industries in Wexford at present which are very shaky and need Government support.

We have trotted out on numerous occasions the fact that the unemployment figures for Wexford are the worst in the country. This is recognised by the Minister. We have three times the national average unemployment rate. Some say we have twice but I contend we have three times.

There is a mood of frustration, despair and anger in the county because thousands of jobs have been announced throughout the country in the past three years, yet Wexford has been bypassed. Why, might one ask? If there are hidden reasons we do not receive the job announcements and industry into County Wexford, perhaps we should be told. We have installed the infrastructure, we are on the gateway to Europe, yet we are being left behind.

I am sorry to have to say that IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland are a dead loss. They do not have any interest in County Wexford. We recently went as part of a delegation to meet Mr. Seán Dorgan and his team in Dublin. Deputy Howlin was present with others. We received soup and sandwiches and nothing else. It was a total negative as far as jobs in County Wexford were concerned.

Tea and cold comfort.

(Wexford): In all my years as part of deputations to IDA Ireland, and I have been part of many, I have never met such a negative bunch as Mr. Dorgan and his personnel on that occasion.

We have advance factories proposed for New Ross and Enniscorthy, but these are being delayed by IDA Ireland because of bureaucratic nonsense. We have made every effort to try to have them built, and planning permission has been sought for one in Enniscorthy, but we receive no support from IDA Ireland.

The Minister established the excellent enterprise initiative in Wexford in 1999 under the chairmanship of Séamus Dooley. As Deputy Howlin said, it has compiled reports and we have had the Bacon report outlining all the problems in Wexford and making a number of recommendations. However, nothing has happened with these reports.

The time has come for action. We have had many reports; what we need now are jobs. Like Deputy Howlin, I represent the people of County Wexford, and they want their share of the job announcements from the Minister's Department. I call on her not to ask but to tell IDA Ireland's Mr. Dorgan and Enterprise Ireland's Mr. Flinter to give Wexford the priority it deserves. The gloves are off on this occasion and there is no going back. The fight is on and there is a mood of anger in County Wexford.

Nothing will be accepted other than a few high-tech job announcements for the county in the coming weeks and months. It is no more than we in County Wexford and we as public representatives deserve. My party, Fianna Fáil, is in Government, and I am sorry to have to say that we in Wexford have been neglected over the past three years. We will not accept it any longer. I ask the Minister to ensure that we receive some priority in the coming weeks and months to deal with the situation in Wexford.

I thank Deputies Howlin and Browne for raising this matter on the Adjournment. I join with them in extending my sympathy to the 150 workers at Wexford Weaving, their families and their community. I also extend my sympathy to the workers in Dungar van and Dundalk who are also being told of job losses in both towns.

Notwithstanding the success of the economy which creates more than 1,000 new jobs per week and which requires us to grant 1,000 work permits per week, there are still areas of the country which depend on basic manufacturing, and many of those jobs are, unfortunately, no longer viable. In the case of this company, almost £4 million of taxpayers' money was given to it in recent years with a view to saving it and making it competitive. That was not to be and it was not able to compete with companies in what are called low cost economies. Enterprise Ireland believed recently it had a potential investor from the United States but, after much consideration, the investor decided not to proceed.

It is not all bleak. There are a number of companies in Wexford town and throughout the county that are applying for work permits and who do not appear to be able to find people in County Wexford for the vacancies they have. That is a fact of which the Deputies should be aware.

What sort of skills?

Basic skills and low skills in many cases.

That is amazing.

That is a fact and I wish to put it on record because people might not understand it.

Discussions have already taken place with FÁS, Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland and the Wexford County Enterprise Board, and they have been asked to ensure every effort is made to find alternative employment for the workers who have lost their jobs. I understand some of the workers have already approached the Wexford County Enterprise Board and have been made aware of the range of assistance available to them.

FÁS, in conjunction with SIPTU, the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs and the Wexford Area Partnership will meet the workforce next Thursday with a view to providing as much assistance as possible with CV preparation, skills audit, self-employment, training and employment services.

Enterprise Ireland had maintained a close relationship with Wexford Weaving since its takeover in April 2000. The company's focus over the past 12 months had been on capability improvements, and Enterprise Ireland had been actively working with the company on this area. In addition, Enterprise Ireland had been working with the company to explore opportunities in new markets. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of everyone, Wexford Weaving Limited was incurring considerable losses which forced yesterday's closure announcement.

As part of its strategy to ensure a greater regional spread of enterprises and with a view to ensuring new employment opportunities for areas such as Wexford, Enterprise Ireland held an event today in Dublin called Into the Regions. I attended it earlier today and there was considerable interest from some Dublin based companies in expansion possibilities in Wexford. The county is being heavily promoted, not just for foreign direct investment, and Deputies must acknowledge there is a slowdown on the technology side because of what is happening in the United States, in the electronics area in particular, but also for companies in Dublin examining expansion possibilities into the regions. Enterprise Ireland tells me that Wexford is seen as an attractive location for those expansion possibilities and I hope they are successful.

The object of the showcase today was to arrange contacts between regional representatives and Dublin based businesses. This will be the first in a series of marketing initiatives aimed at having expansion located in the regions. Initial indications are positive and could result in new employment being generated in places outside the capital.

I am disappointed Wexford has not done better and I said that in the House yesterday. Wexford, Laois, Offaly and north Tipperary are probably the four areas that have not done well and I am disappointed about that. That is why I put together the Wexford initiative which submitted its final report to me on 31 March last. The report sets out a comprehensive blueprint for the development of the county and makes recommendations across a wide number of investment priorities. The successful implementation of the report, which has been undertaken by a sub-group of the county development board, will do much to improve the environment for enterprise in County Wexford.

A financial services company which is expected to employ more than 300 people is currently constructing a 30,000 square foot office building on the business park and recruitment has already commenced. IDA Ireland will continue actively to promote the 42,500 square foot advance facility at Whitemill industrial estate. In addition, it will work towards addressing the various impediments to a new inward investment identified in the Wexford Enterprise Initiative report.

I have spoken to the IDA in relation to the delays in the building of the advance factories. I had a meeting recently with representatives from Rosslare. I, too, am frustrated that something that seems so simple should take so long. I hope the matters which are holding those projects back can be resolved quickly.

Because of my concern, not just in relation to the closures but with vulnerable companies in the Wexford area, I believe we must do more. It is not acceptable that any area should not be attractive for investment. The climate is favourable in Ireland, particularly given the demands on companies in the greater Dublin area. Wexford is accessible and has a sufficiently large population. It is close to the third level facility in Waterford and has, as Deputy Howlin has frequently reminded me, an excellent port. It also has a good hotel infrastructure, which is important for industrial investment. In the next week or so I intend to meet the chief executives of IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland to see how the agencies can work together towards a positive outcome for Wexford town and the other towns in the county in the short to medium term.