Harney throws lifeline to IFI workers

WORKERS at Irish Fertiliser Industries were thrown a lifeline last night when the Government promised to back any viable new business plan.

Tánaiste Mary Harney is to meet IFI management next week after strongly advising trade unions yesterday that further investment hinges on a fresh business strategy.

With 750m pumped into the part State-owned company over the past 15 years, Ms Harney said additional investment was conditional.

She said: “The Government can only justify putting in more money if there’s a viable business plan and if we can be convinced the industry can be turned around successfully.

“Maintaining employment is our number one priority, and I’m confident we can secure some of the jobs, at least.”

The Tánaiste acknowledged the consequences for the IFI workforce if the company closes any of its plants.

“I don’t want to build up false expectations, but the Government will pledge support if a new business plan is put forward,” she said.

IFI has fertiliser and ammonia manufacturing plants in Cork, Arklow and Belfast, employing 650 people.

Production in Ireland has been made uncompetitive by rising manufacturing costs and the surplus of supply current overcapacity in the European market.

The Marino Point factory in Cork is believed to be most at risk. But worker director Stephen O’Riordan said the trade unions yesterday pledged their full support to the Tánaiste in finding a viable business plan.

He said a union delegation led by ICTU general secretary David Begg met with IFI management yesterday.

“The unions are confident a new business plan will be drawn up and we are pleased to have the opportunity to sit down with management and pledge our support for a joint approach to finding a solution,” he said.

Mr O’Riordan said the Tánaiste outlined to unions the necessity of a participative approach in securing the company’s future.

The worker director said his message to concerned workers at Marino Point is: “We’re back in the game.”

He said the meeting with Ms Harney was constructive.

Mr O’Riordan added: “I believe the Tánaiste’s involvement presents a window of opportunity.

“We gave the Tánaiste and management a commitment we would be willing to sit down and contribute

positively to any discussion to secure the future of the company.”

He said intense lobbying in recent weeks by workers at Marino Point may have helped to safeguard their jobs.

The workers, he said, were thankful for the support of high-profile politicians such as EU President Pat Cox and MEP colleague Brian Crowley, along with Health Minister Micheál Martin.

He said: “Public bodies in Cork have also highlighted the strategic importance of Marino Point and we are hoping that all senior politicians in the area, including Agriculture Minister Joe Walsh, will add their voice of support.”

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