‘Bespoke energy scheme’ could be introduced to help Tara Mines, says Varadkar

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the Government was keen to make sure the closure remained temporary (Damien Storan/PA)
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the Government was keen to make sure the closure remained temporary (Damien Storan/PA)

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said a “bespoke energy scheme” could be introduced for Tara Mines following the temporary closure and up to 650 job cuts at the site in Co Meath.

Mr Varadkar described the closure as “very serious”.

He said there would be a wider impact on communities and the economy in the area.

“I want to give the assurance that Government is here to help,” he said.

Speaking during Leaders’ Questions in the Dail, he said the Government was keen to make sure the closure remained temporary.

He was responding to a question from Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald, who said the closure of the mine was a “body blow” that had left workers, families and communities “reeling”.

She said there would be a considerable impact on the local economy.

Ms McDonald said there was an awareness of the pressures the mine was under before the job losses were announced.

She said her party colleague Johnny Guirke warned relevant minister Eamon Ryan about potential job losses at the mine six weeks ago.

She asked the Taoiseach if Mr Ryan had been engaging with the mine.

Mr Varadkar said: “There has been ongoing engagement with this company for quite some time.”

He said he had visited the site personally.

“What has changed and what is significant in recent weeks, is a very significant fall in the price and value of zinc,” he added.

He said this had occurred as energy prices had gone up.

Mr Varadkar said neither the Government nor the company could control energy and zinc prices but added that an energy scheme could be introduced.

Minister for Enterprise Simon Coveney
Mr Varadkar said Tara Mines management were due to meet the Minister for Enterprise Simon Coveney next week (Damien Storan/PA)

“We do want to help and that can involve putting in place an energy scheme,” he said.

But he warned that fully addressing the issue was “not as simple” as just introducing such a scheme, as it would not change the international price of zinc.

“You have to do the maths,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said there was further engagement with the company over its long-term plans for development.

He said securing agreement around deep drilling at the site could secure its future for decades.

He added that work was ongoing to ensure apprentices at the mine could be relocated to other companies.

Ms McDonald accused Government of “feigning surprise” over the closure.

The Taoiseach replied: “I think it is disappointing you are trying to exploit this issue.”

He said the 650 temporary layoffs did come as a surprise as management were due to meet the Minister for Enterprise Simon Coveney next week.

But he acknowledged that the difficult situation at the mine was something the Government had known.

“But deputy, it is not the case that just by being aware of a problem, that the Government can save every job and business in the country.

“The price of zinc has gone down, its gone way down.”

Labour leader Ivana Bacik said the development was the latest in a series of layoffs around the country, including in the tech sector.

She called for a reform to the social welfare system and introduction of a short-term working scheme that would include State subsidies for wages of employees at companies experiencing difficulty.

Mr Varadkar said Government was working “very hard” to reopen the mine and ensure workers returned.

He said the workers would be getting money out of the social insurance fund, which was largely supported through employer’s PRSI (Pay Related Social Insurance).

He said the Government was serious about workers’ rights.

The chief executive of Tara Mines said the closure was undertaken in the face of “tremendous unsustainable losses”.

Gunnar Nystrom said Tuesday’s decision was a necessity to safeguard the future of the company and stem the cash flow out of the company.

Speaking to RTE’s Morning Ireland on Wednesday, Mr Nystrom said the closure was brought about by a “perfect storm” of four factors; falling zinc prices, electricity prices, inflation, and operational issues.

The company is owned by Swedish multinational Boliden and the Tara Mines site will go under care and administration.

Mr Coveney told the same programme that Tara Mines had projected a loss of approximately 100 million euro this year.

“That projection was what triggered the board to make this drastic decision to temporarily close the mine for now,” he said.

SIPTU divisional organiser, Adrian Kane, has said that workers at Tara Mines were shocked and disappointed following the announcement by the company.

The union organiser said: “SIPTU members at Tara Mines are deeply disappointed at the news that 650 workers are to be laid off within the next few weeks and the manner by which it was communicated to them.

“Our members are also concerned that they were not informed in advance of this announcement of temporary layoffs, without pay, by the company.

“Tara Mines is a critical part of both the local and national economy and we will be engaging with management to discuss how the effects of these layoffs can be mitigated.”