Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit chun an Teach. Mar a dúirt sé, cé gur Bille gearr atá anseo Bille tábhachtach atá ann. Tá suim faoi leith agam san mBille seo. Tá an monarcha ar an Mhín Mhór suite míle go leith taobh amuigh den Chlochán Liath, mo bhaile dhúchais féin. Tá suim agam sa cheist, go háirithe mar gheall ar na hoibrithe a bhí ag obair sa mhonarchan sin. Tá aithne agam orthu uilig ó bhí mé i mo ghasur óg.
Níl mé sásta le cuid de na rudaí a tharla sa mhonarchan. Tá fiacha ag an gcomhlacht mar gheall ar pá iomarcaíochta a íoc leis na hoibrithe. Tá an t-airgead á chur ar fáil ins in mBille seo chun na fiacha sin a íoc ar ais. Cuirfidh an Bille airgead ar fáil do chomhlacht Arramara Teoranta. Tá 51% de scaireanna na comhluchta ag an Stát agus níl sé ceadaithe faoi láthair ach €54,000 de scaireanna a bheith ag an Stát. Nuair a reachtálfar an Bille seo beidh cead €1.2 mhilliún de scaireanna a bheith in úinéireacht an Stáit. Nuair a chuirfear an t-airgead seo isteach sa chomhlacht beidh seans ann ath-struchtúrú a dheánamh ar an gcomhlacht agus clár caipitil a chur i bhfeidhm chun feabhsúcháin a dhéanamh ar an dara mhonarcha atá ag an gcomhlacht i gCill Chiaráin i gCondae na Gaillimhe.
The investment will enable the rescue and refinancing of the company in line with the agreement between the two shareholders, the State, through the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources and the Scottish company, ISP Alginates (UK). I understand that all these matters were discussed and finalised by the Cabinet in December.
In the 55 years of its existence as a company, Arramara Teoranta has received a total investment of just over £80,000. It therefore comes as no surprise that the company has run into financial difficulties. It has struggled for a long time and it is only in the last three years that the company has run into financial difficulties, due largely to substantial trading losses. When the plant in Dungloe closed last June, it was stated that the company was experiencing trading difficulties owing to the downturn in the global alginate market. It is my belief that this difficulty was mainly due to the fact that the minority shareholder, ISP Alginates, had deliberately manipulated the situation within the company by gradually reducing the output that they took from the factory in Dungloe. Having become involved with a company based in either Canada or Iceland, they reduced their intake from Dungloe from 6,000 tonnes of seaweed three or four years ago to 1,500 tonnes this year.
For many years, the Dungloe plant totally relied on Kelco, Scotland, for their turnover and markets. When ISP reduced its intake, the manager in Dungloe sought other markets for their product. I am disappointed that a decision was made to close the Dungloe plant before a replacement industry could be found for the area. I have expressed my disappointment to the Minister. At the time of the closure, I accepted that ISP was no longer interested in maintaining the Dungloe plant. I now see that they are providing only 49% of the £400,000 redundancy money requested by the workers. Furthermore, they will provide no further funding for the restructuring of the plant at Kilkieran and they are to dilute their shareholding.
I am disappointed that the State chose to close the plant rather than find another company to take over. The Minister has stated that consultants have explored such possibilities, but I believe more of an effort should have been made to call the bluff of ISP. Sole blame for the closure of the Dungloe plant lies with ISP. That plant provided full-time employment for 15 people; 19 people are employed at Kilkieran. As the Minister has stated, there were up to 400 harvesters based around the west coast, from north Donegal to Galway. The manager of the plant at Dungloe is a friend of mine and I know that for years he managed both plants. Now we find that it is is the Dungloe plant that has to suffer.
The Minister stated that ISP was insisting that Dungloe had to be closed. When the plant closed in June, we were told that £350,000 was needed to provide for redundancy packages and the revi talisation of the plant in Galway. The State's subsequent investment of €800,000 in Galway leaves sour grapes with those of us in Donegal. Had the State acted differently, and dispensed with Kelco or ISP, I believe the jobs at Dungloe and the livlihoods of 400 sea harvesters could have been saved.
The difficulties at Dungloe are now exacerbated by difficulties in the transportation of the seaweed to Galway. I appreciate what the Minister has done to try to resolve this situation. However, the amount of seaweed being transported between Donegal and Galway is restricted to one or two loads per week and only five harvesters are getting the opportunity to cut the seaweed. I do not know for how long this can last. Negotiations are taking place – I am aware that executives of Údarás na Gaeltachta are meeting with private companies in other countries in an effort to re-open Dungloe with a different type of seaweed product. What worries me is that, even if a new company is found, there will be a reduction in the amount of seaweed required and people who have been harvesting seaweed for 25 years will have nowhere to market their product.
The Minister merits praise for the manner in which he handled the redundancy issue at the Dungloe plant, particularly after the Labour Relations Commission made additional awards. The staff of the Department for the Marine and Natural Resources made every effort to ensure that those who were made redundant received their money in time for Christmas.
I have no grudge against the plant at Kilkieran and I wish it every success. I hope an alternative industry can be found for the Dungloe plant. However, people other than the factory workers have been affected. Some harvesters have not cut seaweed since last June, because there was no demand from the plant in Galway. Some of those harvesters who have continued to work may not be able to sustain it much longer. I ask that the Minister look at the possibility of organising some form of compensation for harvesters, particularly those in Donegal, who are now depending on social welfare benefits to survive. There is also a lorry driver, a friend of mine, who transported the seaweed from Mayo to Donegal. He had to give up and sell off most of his plant because the small volume he transported did not justify staying in business.
The area in which we live has for years been synonymous with great unemployment. When the factory was established there was nothing in County Donegal, apart from the option of emigration. The factory provided employment for a small number of people in the Dungloe area. I wish the Minister, the Minister of State, Deputy Coughlan, and the management of the company every success in trying to attract a new industry into the plant. I had great hopes for the seaweed industry following the report published a few years ago, but, unfortunately, matters have not worked out in County Donegal. The industry has contributed substantially, mainly through exports, to the national economy and those of areas such as County Galway where I hope the plant will continue to be successful.
The eventual takeover by a private company of the plant in Kilkieran has been referred to. If that is the case, I am disappointed this aspect was not looked at immediately the Dungloe plant ran into difficulties. I blame the co-shareholder, ISP, for the debacle and closure of the Dungloe plant. I also place much of the responsibility on the board. The Minister will be aware that there were many difficulties five or six years ago when the rainbow Government replaced a number of directors on the board, one of whom is sitting beside me. The men concerned had both experience and integrity and I would question the ability of some of those who replaced them on the board. Even though board members realised what ISP was doing and that matters were not going well, at the end of the day they sat with their hands underneath their backsides at the final board meeting. Some of them pontificated to be great socialists, but they accepted and voted for the decision to close the Dungloe plant.
The Minister will be aware that as politicians in the area we have had a very difficult time since the announcement of the closure of the factory for which we have been blamed because it is the Government who closed it. However, we are the only politicians and board members who, through the Minister and Minister of State, continue to push to try to find a replacement.
I hope the Minister will understand the reason I have made some of my remarks today. I come from an area which has suffered huge unemployment for many years. The fishing industry has had its difficulties. Salmon fishing, in particular, in the small coastal fishing port of Burtonport, just up the road from Meenamore and Dungloe, has been in difficulties. I appreciate the Minister's efforts to try to provide a sustainable industry for the future. The area has attracted very little employment other than that created by some of the fishing factories and the local co-op in Dungloe which has kept more than 100 people in employment during the years.
I wish the Minister and údarás every success and hope in the immediate future there will be some good news which will take the pressure off all of us.