Hopes rise Aughinish jobs will be safe from US sanctions
Production is set to increase at a 450-job Irish alumina plant that had been at the centre of the fallout from US sanctions on Russia.
Aughinish Alumina is expected to be able to return to normal operations over the coming fortnight as Washington confirmed a rethink on its controversial sanctions against named Russian businessmen and their companies.
The Limerick plant is owned by giant Russian firm Rusal and fears had mounted about its exports and jobs over the impact of US sanctions.
US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is understood to have backed the revision of the sanctions after repeated lobbying from the EU and allied governments over the collateral damage the measures were having on their economies.
While the sanctions target Russian firms, many of those companies own major plants in EU countries. Some also have operations in countries allied with the US such as Australia and across the Far East.
Now, the US has extended a wind-down order for firms to cease operations with the Russian companies included on sanctions lists by five months - critically giving those firms time to secure alternative suppliers and markets.
In the case of Limerick's Aughinish Alumina, the firm may be able to escape sanctions entirely if Russian mining oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, agrees to step back from his Rusal empire.
"Rusal has felt the impact of US sanctions because of its entanglement with Oleg Deripaska, but the US government is not targeting the hard-working people who depend on Rusal and its subsidiaries," Mr Mnuchin said.
The sanctions had caused cash flow problems for Rusal - and there were also concerns about Aughinish Alumina's raw material supplies after a major international mining firm had issued a warning over the possible termination of contracts.
Siptu admitted there were concerns within the 450-strong workforce over the impact of sanctions on Rusal - with locals revealing some contractors warned their staff that any escalation in the sanctions impasse could result in temporary short-time working arrangements.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Trade Minister Health Humphreys have already met with Aughinish Alumina management. Rusal has not commented on the US sanctions or the status of their Limerick plant.
Opposition Trade spokesman Niall Collins TD said the sanctions review was "vital for Limerick and the jobs involved".
"This allows the local management the time and space to engage with their suppliers whilst simultaneously offering an opportunity for Rusal's owner Mr Deripaska, whom the US sanctions are aimed at, to step away from the ownership of the company in a structured manner," he said.
Limerick's Councillor Adam Teskey said it was impossible to overstate the critical importance of the Alumina jobs to the entire mid-west economy.