Coughlan knew mass lay-offs were on way 'but acted too late'
TANAISTE Mary Coughlan has been condemned for doing "too little too late" after it emerged she was told by Dell last month about its plan to lay off 1,900 workers.
She and Defence Minister Willie O'Dea flew out to Dell's US headquarters last month, only to be told "politely" by Dell chief executive Michael Dell that the company had no choice but to outsource the jobs to its plant in Poland.
But Ms Coughlan said the company had not informed her of the timing of the announcement and had reserved the right to inform its Limerick workers first.
"I continued working with the company to ascertain what could be done to support manufacturing if at all possible," she said.
But the opposition criticised Ms Coughlan and her Government for its approach, saying that many of the Dell workers did not believe it had done everything possible.
Ms Coughlan, who has faced widespread criticism from the opposition in her role as Enterprise and Employment Minister, said that her discussions with Dell founder Michael Dell had to remain "confidential". She also defended his decision not to travel to Limerick to make the announcement personally to the workers.
"It is not right to personalise a person who has been the creator of a considerable company over the last number of years," she said.
It came as Defence Minister Willie O'Dea denied that he was spreading false hope by speaking of plans to bring up to 750 new Dell jobs to Limerick -- even though the IDA are still engaged in a bidding war with several other countries.
IDA chief executive Barry O'Leary said it would be too early to say that there was a concrete deal and that it would be "wrong to speculate about numbers".
But a spokesman for Mr O'Dea said he had been replying to questions about the plan, and had made it clear that a bidding process was under way.
Labour Limerick East TD Jan O'Sullivan described the 1,900 redundancies as an "economic catastrophe" for her city, while Fine Gael Limerick East TD Kieran O'Donnell said it was one of the blackest days for the city in recent history.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen announced the setting up of a multi-agency taskforce to ensure that the 1,900 Dell workers being made redundant are given retraining and other supports. The Government is also giving "consideration" to calls to provide financial support to laid-off Dell workers struggling to pay mortgages.
Mr Cowen said there was no gain saying that the job cuts represented a major loss to the region. But he pointed out that the region had recovered before from other massive job losses, such as Wang Computers (600 jobs in 1994) and the Ferenka wire company (1,300 jobs in 1977). "It is important that we now mobilise all our resources to meet this major challenge for the region," he said.
But Fine Gael Limerick East TD Michael Noonan said the Government knew about Dell's intentions to axe the jobs for at least three months but still had no definite plan in place when the announcement came.
"The Government must immediately declare Limerick an unemployment emergency area. It must instruct the State's job creation agencies to give absolute priority for new jobs to Limerick," he said.
Jan O'Sullivan, who had repeatedly raised concerns about the future of the plant in the Dail, said that other jobs would be lost.
"When the knock-on impact on supplier companies is taken into account, the total job losses will run to many thousand and the economic cost through loss of spending power is almost incalculable," she said.
The Government was careful last night to praise Dell for its role in the region, given that the company is still keeping more than 1,000 jobs in Limerick and 1,300 in Dublin. Finance Minister Brian Lenihan said he understood that Dell had to look after its own interests.
Mr Lenihan said he did not see a general threat to jobs in Ireland's multinational sector.
But Sinn Fein enterprise spokesman Arthur Morgan criticised the Government for failing to take action when a consortium expressed interest in taking over Dell's manufacturing operation.