Seanad Éireann - Volume 158 - 01 April, 1999
Adjournment Matter. - Factory Closures.
Mr. Chambers Mr. Chambers
Mr. Chambers: I thank the House for the opportunity to raise the proposed closure of the peat production factory at Geesala, Norsk Hydro. That factory which employs 39 people, with four further sales employees in Galway, is an important integral development in north Mayo. It is situated on 700 acres of natural peatland which has tremendous natural resource potential. It has, in the past, been established under other companies and has received a substantial investment of £24 million. It is very important to the area. Over the last three years it has been under the ownership of Norsk Hydro. One could see the whole  development on entering north Mayo and the substantial investment and huge refurbishment that has taken place. It has given great confidence to the people of north Mayo.
It has been indicated that the factory is about to close and that redundancy notices are about to be, or have been, issued to those 39 people and the four people who work in Galway. The Government should, through the Minister and Údarás na Gaeltachta, which has had financial and other involvements in Norsk Hydro and has supported its development and reinvestment programme, seriously examine the position and work with the company on a strategy of partnership or reinvestment.
During the debate on the telecommunications Bill this morning we spoke about floating companies and opening up shareholdings. The concept of this development in north Mayo was to provide energy and peat products in competition with the semi-State sector. There is a serious need to consider the involvement of Bord na Móna as a partner in this development. This concept should be examined to see if the State can be involved in this company so that it can reopen and function as an economic entity.
If we do not do something soon there is a serious danger that some of the contracts and business operations in the company will be discontinued and the company might become run down. I would not like to see that happen. I know of the Minister of State's keen interest in this matter. We must give it immediate priority, with a view to establishing a future for that company in the long term.
I understand there have been some difficulties in relation to the product that was to have been sold from this factory. There has been state of the art investment in the company but there is a need for further capital investment to re-establish and modernise a section of the plant. The company, which has a very well established Irish company as a partner, has invested between £9 million and £10 million. It is important for us to try to find a solution to this, given the substantial investment of private and State capital. In the region of £24 million to £30 million has been invested over the years in this by previous companies, Norsk Hydro, its partner and the State. We should ensure the company has an economic future. I ask the Minister of State to respond to this request.
Éamon Ó Cuív Éamon Ó Cuív
Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Éamon Ó Cuív): Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis an Seanadóir ar son an cheist seo a thógáil sa Seanad. Ar 15 Márta fuair Údarás na Gaeltachta litir ó chathaoirleach Norsk Hydro Fuinnimh Teo a cur in iúl go raibh úinéir nua á lorg ag an gcomhlacht don ghnó agus gurbh fhéidir nach mbeadh dul as ach fógra iomarcaíochta a thabhairt d'fhostaithe uile an chomhlachta mura n- aimseofaí úinéir nua. Mar phríomhchúis don chinneadh a glacadh luadh an cúlú ar phraghasanna ola, petraceimicí, leasuithe agus alúmanam atá mar phríomhghnóthaí ag mátharchomhlacht Norsk Hydro Fuinnimh Teo ar an margadh domhanda. Tháinig an scéal seo aniar aduaidh ar an Údarás agus lorgaíodh cruinniú práinneach le hardbhainistíocht an mhátharchomhlachta chun an scéal a phlé.
Bhí cruinniú ag príomhfheidhmeannach an Údaráis le hardbhainistíocht an mhátharchomhlachta san Ioruaidh ar 25 Márta ag ar cuireadh in iúl dearcadh láidir an Údaráis faoin gcaoi a rinneadh cinneadh – agus a cuireadh an cinneadh sin in iúl – faoi thodhchaí an chomhlachta in Maigh Eo thuaidh. Ba chruinniú deacair a bhí ann. Tá na himpleachtaí ag éirí as an gcruinniú sin á scrúdú ag an Údarás ach tá sé róluath fós ráiteas críochnúil a dhéanamh faoin gceist.
Tá 43 dhuine fostaithe go lánaimseartha ag Norsk Hydro Fuinnimh Teo – 39 i Maigh Eo thuaidh agus ceathair ina gcuid oifigí i nGailimh. Chomh maith leis sin, tuigim go bhfuil suas le 14 dhuine fostaithe ar bhonn conartha sna portaigh i Maigh Eo thuaidh. Ba thubaist é dá gcaillfí na poist sin agus déanfaidh an tÚdarás agus mise gach rud is féidir chun iad a tharrtháil.
Ar ndóigh má chailltear na postanna sin beidh an tÚdarás ar lorg agus i dteideal aisíoc de £1.7 milliún de dheontais a íocadh le Norsk Hydro Fuinnimh Teo agus beidh mé ag cur ina luí ar an tÚdarás tionscal nua a aimsiú do Mhaigh Eo thuaidh leis an tairgead sin.
The letter dated 15 March, which Údarás na Gaeltachta received from Norsk Hydro Fuinnimh Teo stating that a new owner was being sought for the company and that the entire staff might have to be made redundant unless a new owner could be found, came as a complete surprise to the organisation. No indication had been given to an tÚdarás that there was any difficulty regarding the viability of the plant. Indeed, an tÚdarás had been led to believe that all the technical difficulties had been overcome and that a superior product had been developed. The new product had actually just been launched on the market.
The chief executive of an tÚdarás met with senior management of the parent company of Norsk Hydro Fuinnimh Teo last week in Norway to discuss the future of the plant. I understand it was a difficult meeting and that the implications arising from it are being examined by an tÚdarás. It is too early yet to issue a definitive statement on the matter. I assure the Senator I will be meeting with the employees of the company early next week to discuss the situation.
I want to assure the House that every effort will be made by an tÚdarás to save the jobs in question – 39 at the plant in north Mayo and four in the company's office in Galway, in addition to 14 contractors employed on work on  the bogs in north Mayo. I will give any assistance I can to an tÚdarás in relation to this matter.
As I said, an tÚdarás will be entitled to a refund of £1.7 million of grants paid to Norsk Hydro Fuinnimh Teo. I have impressed on an tÚdarás the importance of using this money, when it receives it, to find alternative employment in north Mayo. I fully appreciate that 40 to 50 jobs in that part of north Mayo is equivalent to 500 or 1,000 jobs in other parts of the country because of the scarcity of employment and the  small population of the area, due to continuous unemployment and emigration over the years. The Senator can rest assured that my full commitment, and that of Údarás na Gaeltachta, will be given to doing everything it can to protect what is there and, failing that, to try to get alternative enterprises into the area, partly by insisting on a full repayment of all liabilities to Údarás na Gaeltachta.
The Seanad adjourned at 1.40 p.m. sine die.
Seanad Éireann 158 Adjournment Matter. Factory Closures.