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Government ‘sleepwalking’ since Trump, Labour TD says

Sean Sherlock’s comments made as Eli Lilly drops €200m investment in Cork plant

The Eli Lilly plant in Cork: The company had deferred investment.
Sean Sherlock: The Labour deputy said the energy of the last government in “going out to the world to maintain and secure foreign direct investment is just not apparent with the current incumbents”. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, has been urged to intensify her department’s engagement with US multinationals after it emerged one US pharmaceutical firm has deferred a €200 million investment in the wake of Donald’s Trump’s election.

Cork East Labour TD Sean Sherlock has accused the Fine Gael-led minority government of failing to take proper measures to ensure US multinationals continue to invest in Irish projects after Mr Trump warned US companies that they should repatriate jobs to the United States.

“This Government has been sleepwalking since the inauguration of President Trump,” he said. “We now have evidence that a new expansion to Eli Lilly in Cork is halted and the creation of new jobs has been put on ice.”

Mr Sherlock, a former minister for research and junior minister at the Department of Enterprise, made his comments after an Eli Lilly spokesman confirmed to the Sunday Business Post at the weekend that it was deferring a €200 million investment at its plant at Dunderrow near Kinsale, Co Cork.

According to the Post, Eli Lilly has postponed plans to invest on its current site because of Mr Trump’s suggestions on reforming the industry, including cutting drug prices and relocating manufacturing back to the US.

Better innovation

“We have to get lower prices, we have to get even better innovation, and I want you to move your companies back to the United States. I want you to manufacture in the United States,” the president said following a meeting with leading US drug manufacturers, including Eli Lilly chief executive John C Lechleiter.

Mr Trump told them that foreign countries were “freeloading “ on the US with price controls, and that the US would have to cut the “ astronomical” price of drugs domestically.

In the wake of confirmation by Eli Lilly that it has deferred its investment in Dunderrow, where it employs more than 500 people, Mr Sherlock said the current Government is not showing the same engagement as the previous government when Labour was a partner

“The same energy invested by the last government from 2011 onwards in going out to the world to maintain and secure foreign direct investment is just not apparent with the current incumbents,” said Mr Sherlock.

He also called for something akin to a summit of all state agencies and Government departments, as well as recalling all ambassadors and given them new directives on attracting and sustaining foreign direct investment.

“Ambassadors with a trade function need to be recalled,” he said. “This needs to be held as a matter urgency to warn against complacency and set clear targets for new investment opportunities for companies that export, and to assess how we can pitch for more FDI. “

Securing investment

Mr Sherlock said that when Ireland was on the brink of collapse in 2011, various ministers went overseas looking to secure and protect investment in this country. Something similar needs to be done now to secure investment and open up new markets, such as in Africa.

“If the Trump administration is determined to pursue a protectionist line and the UK is following the same policy, then we must secure new investment,” he said. “We cannot depend solely on the European market to sustain employment on the scale that the pharmaceutical clusters provide here.”

“We need all our Ministers with an economic to rack up the air miles to ensure that jobs like those in Eli Lilly and around the country, are protected.”

If a coherent plan was drawn up, Mr Sherlock added, Opposition TDs would willingly provide pairs for Ministers away on trade missions.