Union leaders to demand answers from Harney

UNION leaders will demand answers from Tánaiste Mary Harney today on why the Government rejected a rescue plan for Irish Fertiliser Industries.

SIPTU, the country’s biggest union, said it was not happy with the Government decision which cost 620 jobs and insisted a survival plan could have kept the firm afloat. It emerged yesterday that a decision by Bord Gáis to cease giving credit to IFI was a key factor in the decision to shut the plants.

Fianna Fáil backbencher Ned O’Keeffe said the situation could have been averted and underlined the need to separate the gas transmission network from the gas suppliers.

Ms Harney defended her actions and insisted taxpayers’ money could no longer be used to prop up the loss-making firm.

She said 750m in State funding had been invested in the plant since it was established, including 34m in the last two years.

Ms Harney also said the Bord Gáis decision not to give the traditional 60-day credit terms to IFI was a factor in the firm’s closure.

Bord Gáis last week decided not to give the company credit that would have cost them 8m in the next couple of months, she said.

Bord Gáis confirmed Ms Harney’s comments and said it had refused IFI credit to avoid increasing its exposure to liabilities. Company sources said IFI owed the firm in the region of 6m.

The closure sparked uproar in the Dáil when Labour leader Ruairí Quinn accused the Tánaiste of “displaying a palpable hatred” for State companies.

Fine Gael TD David Stanton said the Government should have done more to save the jobs and insisted that proper compensation be paid to the workers.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern told the Dáil the closure of IFI was a tragedy for the workers, but said it had not been possible to agree a viability plan.

He said the rescue plan discussed by workers, under which they agreed to take wage cuts, was a short-term response to a long-term problem.

SIPTU’s outgoing general secretary, John McDonnell said the closure of IFI was a hammer blow for the workforce, particularly in the east Cork area.

He said the region had already suffered from the closure of Irish Ispat and the Government had to focus on seeking employment for the workers.

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