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TWO Clare TD’s clashed in the Dáil today (Thursday) when Clarecastle pharmaceutical plant Roche was the point of discussion.

Independent TD, Dr. Michael Harty put the question to fellow TD Pat Breen if “IDA Ireland and the Department still searching for a replacement industry for the plant in Clarecastle and what success have they had to date”?

The Minister of State for Business, Enterprise and Innovation stated “the situation is very much on my mind”, adding that IDA Ireland are working hard to identify a new buyer for the facility. Senior management from the plant recently held a meeting with the agency according to the Fine Gael TD who mentioned the other areas of the county benefiting from the IDA’s work.

“We remain hopeful that an investor will be identified in due course and that further employment opportunities will, in turn, be created for the people of Clarecastle and the wider Clare area. While I remain very disappointed by the closure of this facility, I welcome the continuing overseas investment in County Clare, where there are 68 IDA Ireland client companies employing a total of 6,775 people”, Breen said.

Dr Harty was far from impressed with the response. “It has taken the Minister of State two and a half minutes to tell me that there is no new buyer for the company. Three years after the company announced the plant’s closure with the loss of 240 jobs – and also the loss of the subcontractor jobs that went into supplying services to the plan – the Minister of State is telling me there is still no buyer.

“A replacement is critical for the people of Clarecastle. The closure of Roche sent shockwaves through the community. The Minister of State and previous Ministers in the Department committed to finding a buyer for the plant, which was the subject of major investment over the years. Millions of euro went into developing the plant but the Minister of State is telling me that, over a three-year period, a buyer could not be found for it. If we are still looking for a buyer after three years, the likelihood of finding one is diminishing by the day. The Minister of State informed me of the other jobs that were created in Clare. In this case, however, a fundamental piece of industrial infrastructure in Clarecastle, at which production will cease in 2019, is going to be left lying vacant. We need to get a replacement industry into the plant”.

Returning to the floor, Pat Breen outlined his surprise considering Harty’s background at his inability to comprehend why the Clarecastle site is no longer suitable for Roche. “Deputy Harty is a medic and he understands the changes in the way drugs are being made. As he is aware, the plant at Clarecastle is not suitable for the next generation of pharma production methods because pharma companies are moving to smaller-volume products.

“IDA Ireland is working hard. It is talking to companies but it is difficult to get a buyer for an old facility as it would cost a lot of money to change it. One would almost have to knock down the existing facility and start with a brownfield site. There is a good news story in County Clare in terms of job numbers. A few years ago, almost 12,000 people were unemployed in the county. Today, the figure is closer to 5,000”.

Both of Breen’s predecessors, Mary Mitchell O’Connor and Richard Bruton were also singled out by Dr. Harty who felt it was unacceptable that in three years, Mr. Breen had failed to find a replacement buyer. “I expected that he would have been able after three years to deliver a replacement company to take over the plant. It is fitted out for second generation pharmaceutical production but, nevertheless, companies are engaged in this throughout the world. Surely he can find a replacement”.

In response, Pat Breen was defiant in protecting Fine Gael’s record for job creation in Clare, “We do not fail in delivering jobs to the county. Only last Tuesday morning, I made a good announcement together with the chief executive officer of the Californian company, Microsemi, for the town of Ennis, which is close to Clarecastle”.

Concluding the debate, Deputy Breen said “I advise the Deputy to visit it and to see what else Ennis has to offer. Let us be positive, not negative, about job creation. The future of work and job types are changing. The digital economy is changing everything we do. The centre of excellence employs ten people but that number is expected to increase to 45 in the coming months”.

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