The Government has confirmed it considers the continued operation of the Whitegate Refinery as central to the country’s energy security and economic prospects.
The refinery’s parent company, Phillips 66, confirmed to the Irish Examiner this week that it was again looking for a buyer for the plant, having failed to drum up interest when it pulled the plug on the sales process more than 18 months ago.
A spokesperson for the Department of Communications, Energy, and Natural Resources said it was recently made aware by Phillips 66 that it was planning to put the refinery on the market again.
The department is in regular contact with Phillips 66 and has met with the refinery’s management and union representatives, the spokesperson added.
“The Government views the continued operation of the Whitegate Refinery on a commercial basis as highly desirable from an energy security and economic perspective,” the spokesperson said.
“Security of supply remains a fundamental tenet of our energy policy. The minister [Alex White] is in contact with his ministerial colleagues to discuss the importance of continued operations at the facility.”
Mr White’s most recent engagement with union representatives was on October 21.
Politicians from all sides of the spectrum have urged the Government to engage with Phillips 66 as it seeks a bidder for the facility.
Government and opposition TDs have expressed their desire for the State to do all it can to ensure the refinery remains operational in order to safeguard the country’s economic interests as well as the jobs supported by the refinery.
The State, however, does not have the skills required to operate the refinery should a private bidder fail to materialise, according to Fianna Fáil TD for Cork South-Central, Michael McGrath.
He said: “The preference has to be for a company that has the international expertise in the area to come in and carve out a viable future for the refinery.
"The State doesn’t have any expertise or track record in recent years in running such a refinery so, at most, the State’s involvement would be a strategic partner in a joint venture arrangement with a private company.
"I think either of those options for ownership, by a private company, or joint venture involving the State and a private company from the energy field, would need to be pursued in the interests of energy security.”
Fine Gael Cork South-Central TD Jerry Buttimer described the refinery as integral to the local economy and said it was important there was certainty around its continued operation.
He said everything must be done to safeguard the roughly 300 jobs supported by the refinery and highlighted its importance to the country’s energy security.
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