ESB strikes will damage Ireland's reputation – IDA
FOREIGN multinationals could be put off locating here if proposed industrial action at the ESB goes ahead, IDA Ireland has warned.
IDA chief executive Barry O'Leary said investment was "less likely to come to Ireland" if something as basic as electricity cannot be guaranteed.
He also said Ireland's international reputation would be damaged.
The stark warning came as the ESB group of unions formally served notice of industrial action on the company in their dispute over a €1.6bn pension scheme deficit.
Strike notice will expire on December 16 unless there is some breakthrough between now and then.
Talks on the issue ended on Thursday without agreement.
The unions have said the form the industrial action will take has not been decided. However, they have said power cuts would be "inevitable".
Speaking from Korea, where he is on an investment mission, Mr O'Leary said the IDA has been contacted by client companies expressing concerns.
"Ireland will lose credibility with international companies if a power outage goes ahead. The resulting impact on investment could be significant," he said.
"The implications of a power supply interruption for IDA clients in Ireland could prompt a rethink by some on Ireland as a location for foreign investment."
Mr O'Leary added that at any given time the IDA was in negotiations with several companies about moving parts of their business to Ireland.
"If we can't guarantee something as basic as electricity, these investments are less likely to come to Ireland," he said.
"IDA clients' companies are seeking reassurance that electricity supply will not be broken. Our clients are some of the biggest users of electricity in the country with manufacturers, data centres and biotechnology campuses consuming many megawatts per day between them."
Employers' body IBEC said businesses would be forced to send workers home and that there would be a risk that Christmas pay packets would be hit.
IBEC head of industrial relations Maeve McElwee said: "Any disruption to the energy supply will force many employers to close immediately and send workers home, with the business and the employees bearing the financial loss.
"Any stoppages will inevitably leave workers out of pocket in the run-up to Christmas."
The group warned that employees whose contracts contain unpaid lay-off or short-time provisions could see those clauses implemented.
Agreement may also have to be sought with other workers to place them on temporary work patterns.
Meanwhile, older people's charity Age Action called on the HSE, families and communities to begin planning for power cuts.
It said the HSE must provide details of its contingency plan to protect vulnerable elderly people. The charity also urged the elderly to contact their GP or public health nurse if they were concerned their health could be impacted.
Spokesman Eamon Timmins said he did not want to cause undue alarm, but now was the time to plan for the worst.
Yesterday, the unions informed staff that they would not be making further public comment "in order to assist" dialogue with management.
The ESB has also agreed not to comment.
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Michael Noonan said he was hopeful there would be a resolution. "I hope so. I mean, what will we (all) do with cold turkey at Christmas?" he said.
"I heard interviews on the radio and it seemed to me that some progress was made on the talks, so I hope further progress is made and that the dispute is resolved."