A solution for Vita Cortex can be found

While recognising Vita Cortex workers’ rights to protest, the efforts of management to find a resolution should be acknowledged, writes John McHenry

MY NAME is John McHenry, the proud son of Sean McHenry and the brother-in-law of Jack Ronan of Vita Cortex fame.

For as long as I can remember, Vita Cortex has played a significant role not only in my father’s life but that of the rest of my family.

During his 53 years with Vita Cortex, my father was a proud driver of the expansion of the company his role first as managing director (until his retirement in 1993) and then as non-executive chairman and latterly as a director. At no stage during that period did he take his responsibilities to the company or the welfare of the workers in Vita Cortex lightly. Indeed, the very fact that you have had so many generations of the same families working there over that period of time bears testimony to that fact.

In recent years, I was aware from my father’s concerns that the trading conditions in Vita Cortex were very challenging. Though very much removed from the company itself, I nonetheless found myself concerned (for my father’s sake) that Vita Cortex, for so long an integral part of Cork’s industrial society could in fact be vulnerable, even unviable. This has proven to be the case and recently when I quizzed my father further on the subject, he readily admitted that, in hindsight, the Cork plant should probably have in fact closed much earlier — but there was an understandable reluctance to shut down the operation which had been the birthplace of the Vita Cortex group.

The events of the past month have been a very sad period, I’m sure, for everyone (workers and management) associated with this once great company. From the workers’ perspective, I fully recognise not only their right to protest, but also their right to seek adequate remuneration for their many years of hard work and loyalty to the company.

That said, I also would like to recognise the efforts which the directors and management team have made during these difficult times, because I believe that much of this detail either has not been reported to date, most especially what has gone on in the background during the past month.

I am particularly critical of certain sections of the political establishment who have sought little more than political gain from their public utterances to date, despite having the true facts or indeed access to the correct information available to them.

I am also highly critical of one particular local broadcaster, 96fm, which has gone out of the way to inflame this situation, rather than attempting to find out the accurate information before giving a balanced opinion. (For example, at no stage did the McHenry family own Vita Cortex [as stated] or hold any more than a 10% shareholding in the company. It was not Seán McHenry’s company to give away in a cosy deal to his son-in law. Secondly, any funding for a possible takeover of the company would only have been realised on the presentation of a proper business plan.)

It must be remembered that not too long ago, it was a number of these same individuals who were themselves pleading for a balanced argument on their own circumstances, despite absolute evidence to the contrary.

So, by way of trying to set this matter straight, I would like to set out my personal understanding of the situation which I hope people will take on board before talking about this emotive situation in the future:

* Vita Cortex was working closely with the unions and Nama employees right up to the December deadline. Nama was first made aware of the proposal to close the Cork plant on Aug 4. Part of all subsequent discussions with Nama included discussion on the closure of Vita Cortex and the use of the Vita Cortex €2.5m on deposit for redundancy payments and clearing of the Cork site to make it ready for sale;

* Neither Siptu nor the employees disputed that the plant had to close;

* The full accounts of the company and its sister companies were opened to Siptu in November;

* Jack Ronan is a Nama debtor;

* At the time of the closure of the company, the workers were fully paid up to date, plus an additional week for Christmas;

* All the workers pensions are fully performing and up to date;

* The €2.5m in the bank frozen by Nama is money earned by the company. It is this money which Vita management believe should be made available to the workers;

* Behind the scenes the directors and management team have been in constant contact with Nama and the politicians to try to find a way to resolve this problem;

* I, through Simon Coveney, have asked Nama to see if it could release in full the judgment he has (owing to him) against a totally unrelated company in Nama to the amount of €1.05m plus interest (from 2008) on the proviso that those monies would go in their entirety to the Vita Cortex workers. In turn I had agreed that he would not seek the 60% refund from the Government. (I believe that this request has been rejected by Nama).

I hope that these facts will help to give people a greater understanding of the lengths the directors and management team are in fact going to, to find the right and proper solution for the workers of Vita Cortex.

Given the fact that Vita Cortex has said that it is not in a position at this time to pay the workers their redundancy, it is my honest belief that any immediate and lasting solution must therefore lie with the Labour Relations Committee, Nama and the Government in conjunction with the company.

With a little creativity, I firmly believe that there are ways to resolve this problem. For that to happen, many of our local and national politicians must now stop posturing and work with the management of Vita Cortex to resolve this issue for once and for all.

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