Taoiseach pledges support to Vita staff

“If I could pick up the phone and tell him to find the redundancy money, I would.”

So said Taoiseach Enda Kenny to Cork’s Vita Cortex workers yesterday after he met them to pledge his support but underline his powerlessness in this dispute between multimillionaire employer Jack Ronan and his former employees.

However, Mr Kenny will contact Siptu next week after Jobs Minister Richard Bruton updates him on his department’s assessment of Mr Ronan’s finances.

The Taoiseach met with four of the workers yesterday. Cal O’Leary, one of the 32 staging a 51-day sit-in at the former foam manufacturing plant, said Mr Kenny was “very sympathetic” to their cause.

Before the Taoiseach contacts Siptu, he is to hold a meeting with jobs and enterprise department officials so he can be updated on the finances of Vita Cortex owner Jack Ronan.

Yesterday, the social protection department decided to expedite the payment of their statutory redundancy entitlements as Mr Ronan had pleaded inability to pay. The funds should be available from Monday.

Siptu manufacturing division organiser Gerry McCormack said “the news comes as a great relief to the workers and their families”.

However, the dispute and sit-in is set to continue following what Siptu organiser Anne Egar described as “a misleading and inaccurate” statement issued on behalf of the board of management of Vita Cortex and JackRonan this week.

“The statement has claimed that in discussions with Siptu last year the company management had never offered an ex gratia 0.9 weeks per year of service on top of their minimum statutory entitlements. This is misleading and inaccurate and is easily contradicted by the minutes of meetings,” she said.

Meanwhile, independent Cork city councillor Mick Finn has called on people to show their support for the workers by signing a petition available from today.

Mr Kenny also encountered protesters of another kind during his day-long trip to Cork.

Sinn Féin and anti-household charge groups held protests in Ballincollig and in the city centre chanting “hell no, we won’t pay” as the Taoiseach’s cavalcade drove into Ballincollig at lunchtime.

At EMC, managing director Bob Savage told the Taoiseach “how Ireland can be at the forefront of IT innovation if we continue to invest in the innovative ecosystem that connects enterprise, central Government, higher education institutions and the state agencies”.

The theme of the importance of a quality education continued when the Taoiseach was asked about comments that college registration fees could rise to €3,000. Hr refused to rule it out, saying third-level education did not come cheap.

“But we’ve got to have it at our best if our country is to be thrive and prosper.”

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