Government puts RD plan to Dell in bid to save plant


THE GOVERNMENT has put significant proposals to Dell Computers in a bid to save some of the 2,000 jobs threatened by the company's plan to scale back its Irish manufacturing operation.

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise Mary Coughlan and Limerick-based Minister for Defence Willie O'Dea flew to Austin, Texas,last weekend for face-to-face talks with Dell executives, including company founder Michael Dell.

The Ministers emphasised "the significant benefits that the Limerick operation brings to the company, the city and the region" and they undertook "to provide whatever assistance they could to Dell" with a view to retaining "a significant Dell presence in Limerick", the Department of Enterprise said in a statement.

Under European Union rules due to enter into force from January, the Government is barred from offering grant aid based on job numbers, which explains the drive now to offer research and development supports.

However, RD work requires highly specialised staff and many of the workers in the Raheen plant - who work on an assembly line putting together PCs and laptops - will not have the qualifications for the work.

There is considerable disquiet within the Government at the leaking of information about the Ministers' flight to Texas. The two left Ireland on Sunday and returned early on Tuesday morning.

They met Mr Dell and other Dell executives - Kip Thompson and Michael Cannon - and Seán Corkery, Dell's head in Europe, Middle East and Asia, and the man who led Dell's expansion into Poland.

The two Ministers were accompanied by the secretary general of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Seán Gorman, and by the chief executive of the IDA, Barry O'Leary.

"I am trying to keep a good relationship with the company. I didn't tell anyone about this and I know that the Tánaiste didn't do so, either," Mr O'Dea told The Irish Times last night.

"They were very adamant that they will be the ones to tell their workers something, if there is something to tell - and not us."

The contribution which has been made by Dell to the Irish economy from its operations in Limerick and Bray, Co Wicklow, is extraordinary: at least 5.5 per cent of Irish exports, 2 per cent of gross domestic product and more than 4 per cent of all expenditure in the economy.

Labour Party TD for Limerick East Jan O'Sullivan said there had been "considerable concern" and uncertainty in recent months among Dell workers and the wider community over its future.

"Ms Coughlan has a duty to the workers in Dell to clarify and update them on exactly what is the plan by Dell Inc regarding their Irish operations and what the Government is doing in order to retain these jobs," she said.

The Labour TD urged the Tánaiste to approach EU competition commissioner Neelie Kroes, who is investigating the Polish grants offered to Dell, "in order to protect Dell's Irish workforce".