Tanaiste knew of threat to plant three months ago


The closure of the 1,400-job Seagate plant has brought a devastating reversal of the Government's recent good fortune on the jobs front. As Opposition parties demanded immediate Government action to bring replacement employers to south Tipperary, the Tanaiste, Ms Harney, revealed last night that she had known of the threat to the Seagate plant for almost three months. She and the Government had been working to avert the closure since then and she was "deeply shocked" yesterday morning when told of the closure.

During a visit to the town last night, she announced the formation of a Clonmel task force. Ms Harney said the task of rebuilding employment in the area must begin immediately. The IDA, Forbairt, county enterprise boards, the county council and other local interests would be represented on the task force.

The news follows the closure a fortnight ago of the Asahi plant in Killala, Co Mayo, and the announcement of more than 750 job losses in the Avonmore Group in Dungarvan, Co Waterford, and Rathfarnham, Co Dublin. It provides major disruption to what was expected to be a steady stream of "good news" jobs announcements from the Government and Ms Harney in particular as Minister for Employment, Trade and Enterprise.

The Government since its formation has presided over monthly drops in unemployment and has made new job announcements regularly. As Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Ms Harney has been making most of the jobs announcements and just last month Government sources were proclaiming there would be a series of job announcements in the run-up to Christmas.

Some 3,000 new jobs were expected, almost all of which were to be outside Dublin in the healthcare, electronics and teleservices sectors. Some of these jobs have been announced since and there was speculation last night that another announcement was expected this week but may have been postponed so as not to clash with the bad news from Clonmel.

Last night, the Opposition parties criticised Seagate management and called for immediate Government action to alleviate the economic damage that will be done to Clonmel and Co Tipperary.

Fine Gael's spokeswoman, Ms Nora Owen, demanded to know whether Ms Harney had any prior knowledge of this "devastating and gut-wrenching blow to the people of Clonmel". She called on Ms Harney to state quickly what replacement industries she planned to bring to the area.

"The warning signs were there. Seagate had already postponed its proposed massive investment in Cork and the Tanaiste must now also ascertain what the implications for this development are following this shocking news," she said.

Fine Gael drew attention to comments in the Dail on November 6th by Ms Harney when she was questioned about Seagate's postponement of a 1,000-job plant at Ringaskiddy, Co Cork. She then said she had been assured by the company that this was merely a postponement, "and all I can do is accept their word".

She made no mention of a threat to the Clonmel plant, although she revealed last night that she was aware of such a threat since October and had been working to avert closure since then.

The Labour Party concentrated its criticism on the management at Seagate but said the closure of a company that was supported by the State "raises questions about the kind of company we encourage to locate here".

Mr Michael Ferris TD, who represents Tipperary South where the plant is located, said the decision was "cynical and callous" and was taken without prior consultation with the Government or the workers. He pointed out that the factory was opened in October 1995, and had its official opening as recently as June this year.

"With the number of jobs involved, this is a devastating blow to Co Tipperary as a whole because workers at the plant come from all over the county," said Mr Ferris. He called on the Government and the Tanaiste "to make every effort to avert this crisis".

Referring to the establishment of a task force, he said one was already in existence to cover Carrick-on-Suir and Tipperary town. This task force was established during the 1980s after the closure of the Digital plant.

Democratic Left's employment spokesman, Mr Pat Rabbitte, said the announcement was "one of the most serious setbacks in the employment area for many years". Coming on top of the Asahi closure and the Avonmore job losses, this shows that "despite impressive figures for new jobs, there is no room for complacency".

"While continuing to seek to attract new investment, we need also to give further consideration to how we can best protect existing jobs."

The Socialist Party deputy, Mr Joe Higgins, said the closure "underlines the irresponsibility of successive governments promoting a reckless reliance on multinational companies for the creation of jobs and thereby leaving the fate of Irish workers to the mercy of the international marketplace and the casino economy".

He said this was the first tremor in the economy following the collapse of the stock markets in south-east Asia. "It puts into perspective what criminal folly it would be to allow the privatisation of TEAM Aer Lingus at the hands of another multinational company which can withdraw with the same rapidity and ease as Seagate in Clonmel."