IFI ‘could have been saved’

THE Government’s decision to close Irish Fertiliser Industries with the loss of 620 jobs last night sparked a furious row over whether the firm could have been saved.

Union leaders and politicians accused Tánaiste Mary Harney of ignoring a rescue package under which workers agreed to major pay cuts.

But Ms Harney insisted that the loss-making firm could not be propped up by taxpayers’ money any more, resulting in the closure of the 40-year-old company which has plants in Cork, Arklow and Belfast.

“It’s just not viable to produce fertiliser in Ireland,” she said. “I left the workers in no doubt taxpayers’ money could not be put into this company unless we got a viability plan. No viability plan was forthcoming.”

But government backbencher, Fianna Fáil’s Ned O’Keeffe, said it was not good enough for the Tánaiste to look on as hundreds of jobs were lost.

“I don’t think she can stand idly by while this tragedy happens. A jobs’ task force is no answer. It’s merely a cosmetic political device,” he said.

Stephen O’Riordan, workers’ representative at IFI’s Cork plant, who was employed by the company for 25 years, said the firm could have been saved.

“We’re saddened and shocked. We feel betrayed,” he said. “We were working on a viability plan and were asking them to hold on for another two weeks.”

He said workers were hammering out details of a 31m rescue plan, under which workers offered to take a 3.8m cut in wagesThe volatile fertiliser industry and increases in the price of gas has meant it has been cheaper to import fertiliser than produce it in Ireland.

The Government put 34m into the plant in the past two years to keep it afloat, but workers insist their rescue plan could have kept the plant open until the market recovered.

Ms Harney said she had been in contact with FÁS to discuss employment prospects and pointed out 75% of workers at the closed Irish Ispat plant in Cobh, Co Cork, had already found jobs. But local politicians called for actions not words to find employment for the workforce.

“A task force isn’t good enough, we want action,” said Fine Gael’s David Stanton. “The Government and the State agencies have to do everything possible to act and find employment,” he said.

Labour’s Cllr John Mulvihill said: “It’s still not too late to save the jobs but we have a right-wing government unwilling to intervene. The workers feel if they got a break, they’d be able to turn it around.”

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