Saturday 21 April 2018

Taoiseach promises help to protect 450 jobs at plant as fears over US sanctions grow

Fianna Fáil TDs Niall Collins. Photo: Tom Burke
Fianna Fáil TDs Niall Collins. Photo: Tom Burke

Wayne O'Connor and David Raleigh

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has met with senior management as concern grows that US sanctions on Russia will have an impact on 450 jobs at Aughinish Alumina.

Mr Varadkar revealed he has been liaising with officials at the Limerick plant since last week.

He held a meeting with senior staff there yesterday to discuss protecting investment and jobs at the company.

Mr Varadkar said that he was aware of the risk the sanctions would have on the plant's Russian-owned parent company Rusal.

Ireland would not copy the US by imposing its own trade sanctions, he added.

"We are very much aware of the risks and we'll do everything we can to assist the company and to ensure that it can continue to operate as normal," said Mr Varadkar.

A party of Aughinish Alumina officials travelled to Russia in recent days to assess the possible impact on the plant before returning to meet the Taoiseach yesterday.

Concerns about the 450 jobs spread to neighbouring counties with much of its staff are from areas dotted throughout the Midwest.

Workers from Limerick, Tipperary, Kerry and Clare would be affected by any fallout as a result of major customers reviewing their contracts with the company and the London Metal Exchange distancing itself from the aluminium giant because of the trade sanctions.

Read more: Sanctions fears grow as 450 jobs threatened

Fianna Fáil TDs Niall Collins and Stephen Donnelly visited the plant in recent weeks as part of a Brexit-focused energy security study.

They were given a presentation by bosses that showed the geographical spread of its workers.

"As part of that presentation they were able to tell us it is a very profitable entity within the Rusal group," said Mr Collins.

"The view or the hope here is that [the plant] will be too big to fail.

"The spread of its workforce goes up in to Clare, Tipperary and south down in to Kerry too. It has a big employee footprint."

He called on Mr Varadkar to offer support to staff working at the plant.

Reopen

Mr Collins said: "I think he and his Government must give every available support to Aughinish Alumina to ensure the sanctions being imposed by the US don't result in any job losses or impact negatively on the region."

Locals with a knowledge of the plant said there were concerns it would not be able to reopen if it was forced to close.

They said restarting work at Aughinish Alumina would be "cost prohibitive" if it was brought to a halt.

Mr Varadkar said efforts were being made to protect jobs.

"Everyone including the IDA, and the Department of Foreign Affairs are very aware of the situation and the Government will do everything we can to protect the investment there and protect the jobs," he said yesterday.

Kerry TD John Brassil said there was concern in northern parts of his county about job losses.

"It would have a huge impact here," said the Fianna Fáil TD.

"This is skilled and technical work on that site and it brings a significant amount of money into the region."

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