Irish economy depends on manufacturing industry

26 Aug 2004

Despite the gradual disappearance of prominent manufacturers like Daewoo and Nortel and a general push by policy-makers towards moving up the value chain towards the knowledge economy, UK-based manufacturing union Amicus told a union conference in Belfast yesterday that the decline in manufacturing across Ireland is threatening opportunities for growth and regeneration.

Amicus’ general secretary Derek Simpson said that the economic future of Ireland depends on there being a successful and vibrant manufacturing both North and South of the border.

Simpson said: “We have seen cuts right across manufacturing in Ireland, from textiles and aerospace through to new and emerging sector such as telecommunications but a strong economy depends on strong manufacturing.”

Whilst the North has experienced the disappearance of manufacturing operations of Nortel, Daewoo, TK-ECC and Shorts, the South has also experienced a gradual erosion of its electronics manufacturing sector with prominent players like MSL, Solectron, Gateway and Celestica pulling the plug on local operations.

The problem in the South has been screened from public concern by pundits arguing that Ireland is moving inexorably towards a knowledge economy and that there is no further need for manufacturing.

However, Simpson’s views echoe those of Science Foundation Ireland’s director of ICT, Dr Alastair Glass, who also warned that there will always be a need for manufacturing industry. He said in an earlier interview with “It is crucial that Ireland retains manufacturing. The era of manufacturing has not passed. Certainly other industries are coming along, but a foothold in this area is vital.”

Focusing on Northern Ireland (NI) as an example, Simpson said that over the past five years a total of 16,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost in the region alone. The union argued that the problems were frustrated by the NI Assembly and recommended that the region must have local and accountable ministers from its own devolved government to create a framework for change and secure employers committed to NI.

Peter Willliamson, Amicus’ regional secretary for Ireland, said: “Manufacturing delivers the highest paid and highest skilled jobs and the greatest opportunity for high earning exports, yet successive job cuts are undermining NI’s and the Republic of Ireland’s capability to sustain their existing manufacturing bases.”

By John Kennedy