Adjournment Matters. - Closure of Castleblayney (Monaghan) Plant.

I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Treacy, to the House. I am glad to have the opportunity to discuss the difficulties in Castleblayney, County Monaghan, as a result of the decision made by the management of Cement Roadstone Holdings to close the plant there. The announcement was made over two weeks ago. One can only imagine the shock to the workforce and the people of Castleblayney. The management said rock is depleted at the current location and that, therefore, it must cease operations from 30 November 1994.

Castleblayney has had a rough time over the past quarter of a century because a few factories have closed there in recent times. A Eurolivre factory, which was in the town in the early 1970s, closed, as did a furniture factory, which employed approximately 120 people, and two shoe factories. One could only imagine what people felt when they heard the announcement about the Cement Roadstone Holdings plant. It is on the national primary road and visible to everyone. It was seen as a flagship for the town because of the great activity associated with it.

Although only a small number of people work in the plant, the official figure is approximately 25, my investigations show that approximately 60 people will be affected by this decision. These include those who officially work in the plant, contract workers inside and outside the plant and a substantial number of people who provide transport. It is sad for some of these latter people because many factories have offloaded transport on drivers who bought lorries, but have not yet paid for them. They will probably suffer enormously from this decision. Many services are required to support this plant and these are drawn from the locality. Many people will suffer as a result of this closure. One could say that every business in Castleblayney will suffer a loss if this decision is implemented.

I want the Minister to have discussions with the management about this issue. I know it is a private company, but, as public representatives, we have an interest in finding out the difficulties and in ensuring we know why the plant is closing. If it cannot be redeemed, we must take other action. I hope the plant will be kept open, at least for an extended period of time. That would give the company a chance to look for alternative rock supplies in the area and give the Government an opportunity to bring its full force to bear on the situation in Castleblayney and to create new jobs there.

Castleblayney is a small rural town with a population of approximately 3,000. More than 900 people sign on the dole each week there. When one considers the number of people on the social employment scheme, the number of people out of work is probably between 1,100 and 1,200. That is a colossal figure for a small town. Castleblayney is located only a few miles from the Border. Therefore, its resources would have been depleted rather than increased over the past 15 years. Castleblayney now needs help. It cannot do much for itself as it does not have the kind of stored up capital supplies as other parts of the country because of its geographical location.

The closure of Digital was a huge loss to County Galway and created a huge disturbance in the area at the time. However, the Government made a decision, moved in and replaced the jobs within 12 months. It also committed huge amounts of financial resources to TEAM Aer Lingus and Irish Steel. It also successfully moved into Dundalk — it recognised the town as an unemployment blackspot — and successfully dealt with its problems. Maybe these problems have not all been solved, but there are new industries in Dundalk, which is wonderful. Will the Minister advise the Government on this and see that it does the same for Castleblayney? The people there need help and I hope to be the agent to get this message across.

The quarry industry in the Border corridor in the South has had a rough time, not just recently, but over a ten year period. It arose because the powers that be in the North at the time grant-aided plant and machinery for the quarry industry there. Those grants are now gone, but these people were given an opportunity to set up strong and well financed companies, which is what happened. That industry in the North created approximately 500 jobs in the last ten years. In the South, both near the Border and in the Border corridor, I would say that 500 jobs have been lost. At a meeting in Cavan last Saturday morning, I was given a list of companies dealing in the quarry business along the Border that closed in the past ten years. The list is substantial. There is no doubt that the number of jobs created in the North was borrowed from us. Cement Roadstone might, in fact, be able to continue operating in its present location at Castleblayney for another three or four years. It has taken the decision because it cannot handle the competition; it is a waste of time operating there.

The Minister might be aware — he may have already done his own research on the matter — that a tonne of tarmacadam, for example, supplied to a local authority in the Border counties is cheap compared to the price local authorities pay in the South, which is incredible. Authorities in the North were offered a tonne of tarmacadam at about £20 per tonne at one stage this year, where in the South, it was talking in terms of around £40 pounds a tonne. Why? It happened because of the fierce competition from the North. I honestly believe there is a certain element of dumping. The companies in the North are strong because of the support they got at a certain time. They are dumping products into the Border counties and closing companies there, which is creating a serious difficulty.

If the Minister wants to do research to find out if I am telling the truth, all he has to do is to get somebody to find out how many lorries from the South go to the North on any week with quarrying by-products. He will find that there are few, probably none. If the Minister looks around the Border counties, he will find that on every road he travels, he will meet these Northern lorries delivering that product in the South. There is a great difficulty there. I am informed that one of the reasons for that is the cost of employment in the North vis-a-vis the cost of employment here. A person who carried out the research told me a certain company found that a job cost them £22,000 while the cost of a job to a competitor in the North was £15,000, a huge difference. Of course, if that is the case, it is a huge imbalance.

This also has implications for the way in which the Government will spend money in the Border counties. Providing grant aid there in many cases, given the normal criteria, is not much use because people cannot come up with their own resources to match the grant. Their businesses are not solidly based at that stage because of the difficulties they face with competition. We are at the coal face, so to speak. The European Single Market is blowing a cold wind through some industrial sectors in the Border counties and the Government should certainly take heed of that. The structure of grant aid available is not as efficient as it might be in other parts of the country in that people are not able to take it up.

There is also the additionality factor where funds earmarked for the Border counties are in fact used as substitutes for Structural Funds. More Structural Funding is spent elsewhere than in the Border corridor because other funding is available, the International Fund for Ireland, for example, and the INTERREG Programme. The Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal Project was put forward for support under the Structural Funds. INTERREG 1 came on stream and immediately about £51 million was made available in the South. Some £18 million of that was immediately earmarked for the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal. While it is a worthy project, more than one third of the INTERREG funding was put into it. If the balance was right, some INTERREG funds should be used, but a predominance of the funding should have come from the Structural Funds. However, it did not. That tends to happen because the other moneys are available but this should not be the case.

I thank the Minister for coming to the House this evening. I did not have an opportunity to talk to him about this before the debate, but knowing the Minister, I know we will have a talk afterwards. We will compare notes and see what can be done.

I have been asked by the Minister for Enterprise and Employment, Deputy Quinn, who unfortunately cannot be here today, to make the following statement on behalf of the Government.

At the outset, the Minister wishes to assure the House that he shares the Senator's concern at the loss of jobs and the consequences for the local economy arising from the proposed closure at the end of November of the Cement Roadstone quarry at Castleblayney, County Monaghan. The CRH Group comprises the Roadstone Group and Irish Cement Ltd. and employs 2,500 people in Ireland. The Castleblayney quarry is part of Roadstone Provinces Ltd., a division of the Roadstone Group employing over 600 people. The quarry is involved in the extraction of hard stone, which is used for wearing courses, that is one of the top layers of roads, and as aggregate for use in roads and motorways.

From inquiries made by the Department of Enterprise and Employment, the Minister understands that the reason for the closure is that the quarry has been exhausted of the quality material needed for its operation. The company sought to find alternative sources but was unable to do so. The closure will, unfortunately, result in the loss of 15 jobs directly and a number of other jobs indirectly. The company hopes to maintain business in the area which will help to save some of the indirect jobs. The House will, of course, appreciate that the decision is essentially a matter for the company involved.

The quarrying and cement activities of the CRH Group are not eligible for grant assistance and the quarry at Castleblayney has not received any grants from Forbairt. Adequate production capacity exists to supply the domestic market in this sector and the industry is not, in general, subject to international competition. Grant assistance is only available for the manufacture of products which are exported in substantial quantities to markets outside Ireland.

The Minister understands that the proposed closure will be fully discussed with union representatives at a meeting arranged for Tuesday, 8 November. In addition, the company has agreed to meet Castleblayney Chamber of Commerce and the urban district council to explore what can be done to minimise the effects of the closure. Every effort will be made to minimise the impact of the closure on the workforce and the surrounding area.

Forbairt has assured the Minister that Castleblayney will continue to be actively promoted by it for industrial development. In this connection the Minister understands that in mid-September Forbairt-IDA Ireland attended a meeting with the Castleblayney Urban District Council to discuss job creation in Castleblayney, at which it was suggested that community groups should consider the provision of an advance factory in the town. This would enhance its marketability and funds might be available from EU or International Fund for Ireland sources.

I empathise with what Senator Cotter said. I have just come back from a visit to Northern Ireland close to the area about which he spoke. I saw yesterday at first hand the mobility of lorries across the frontier area with aggregate and other supplies. Obviously, this can have an effect on competition, particularly local competition. I will bring what he said to the attention of the Minister for Enterprise and Employment and will ask him to renew, with Forbairt and the IDA, every effort to ensure that Castleblayney — and, indeed, the industrial area of County Monaghan — gets every support for industrial investment.