Around 700 jobs at Aughinish Alumina in Limerick are safe for now after the US senate voted to support the White House in ending sanctions against the plant’s Russian owner.
The senate had threatened on Tuesday to keep sanctions on Aughinish’s owner Rusal, a company controlled by Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska.
He has come under intense pressure from US authorities over perceived ties to the Kremlin.
Republicans — including hardline supporters of President Donald Trump — had crossed the political aisle on Tuesday to back the Democrats’ move to keep sanctions on Mr Derispaska’s companies, in spite of the US treasury’s recommendations to end the crackdown last month.
However, when it went to a debate and vote in the senate, treasury’s position prevailed by 57 votes to 42 — a major relief to the Irish Government, which had lobbied Washington, DC on the impact of sanctions on the Limerick plant.
Around 700 workers and contractors are employed at the Aughinish Alumina plant near Askeaton, which has been described as one of Limerick’s best employers.
Aughinish owner Rusal is in turn majority-owned by a company controlled by Mr Deripaska.
US treasury in April imposed sanctions against Mr Deripaska and the eight companies in which he is a large shareholder, including Rusal, in response to what it called “malign activities” by Russia.
The US sanctions fuelled volatility in aluminium prices by casting doubt on the future of a major player in the supply chain.
Rusal supplies about 6% of the world’s aluminium and operates mines, smelters, or refineries in locations including Ireland, Guinea, Jamaica, and Russia.
Limerick had been reeling from the latest setback on Tuesday, said Limerick TD Niall Collins.
“People are very worried locally because they thought it had been conclusively dealt with,” he said.
Irish ambassador to the US Daniel Mulhall had warned of the “unintended consequences” of the sanctions on communities such as Aughinish, with 700 direct jobs at stake and another 1,000 who depend indirectly on it.
The Department of Business said it was “monitoring developments in the US Congress very carefully”.
“Our embassy in Washington has been working extremely hard, together with our EU partners, over the last eight months to ensure that American legislators understand the ramifications these sanctions would have, if fully implemented, for European firms.
"We are continuing to engage this week with the US authorities to help secure an outcome that would safeguard the long-term future of jobs at Aughinish Alumina.”