Irish Republican News · January 6, 2012
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Rebel Cork versus the NAMA republic

Two protests in Cork have demonstrated the city’s fighting spirit in the face of social injustice.

Thirty-two workers have occupied a foam packing factory in pursuit of redundancy payments which have become embroiled in a blame game involving various state-owned agencies.

The workers at the Vita Cortex plant on Kinsale Road are seeking the redundancies promised in September when Vita Cortex management announced production was being transferred from Cork to Athlone in County Westmeath.

When workers were handed their final notices, on December 16, just before Christmas and with no sign of the compensation, they refused to leave the plant and have been in occupation ever since.

The 32 subsequently rejected a miserable management offer of 1,500 euro each, just 48,000 euro in total, to allow the company to remove valuable machinery from the plant.

Many of the workers have been with Vita Cortex for most of their working lives. Cal O’Leary, 62, spent 44 years working for the company, while John Daly worked there for 47 years. Others have spent between two and four decades with the company. In total, the 32 have spent 847 years working for Vita Cortex.

With the 26-County economy in deep recession, they have almost no chance of finding alternative work. In 2011, 26,508 workers were unemployed in the Cork area, compared to 9,166 in 2006. The city’s Employment Resource Centre is set to close. Nationally, unemployment remains over 14 percent. Were it not for the increase in emigration, these figures would be much higher.

The workers’ jobs and redundancy money are mow entangled in a legal and financial web, involving eight-figure debts owed by board chairman and property developer Jack Ronan, via state-owned Allied Irish Banks, to the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA).

NAMA is the “bad bank” set up by the Dublin government to administer huge loss-making loans built up by the now ruined and state-owned Irish banks during the frenzied property boom of 2004-2008. The organisation has 71 billion euro worth of loans on its books and has become one of the world’s largest property companies.

According to Ronan, Vita Cortex’s assets include industrial property in Cork, Dublin and Belfast and 2.5 million euro in a deposit account. However, the cash is in an AIB account in the name of Vita Cortex (Dublin), which Ronan and NAMA claim is a different subsidiary of the holding company from the one running the plant in Cork. NAMA is refusing to acknowledge any role in the dispute.

Speaking about Vita Cortex, the local MP, Fine Gael’s Jerry Buttimer, said, “A web of inter-company transactions has been carried out over the last number of years which has effectively stripped the assets from the Cork company. This looks like it has been a planned and orchestrated move by people controlling the companies.”

Local union organiser Ann Egar called on the company’s management to open its various company accounts for independent assessment, while the Socialist Workers’ Movement has declared that the various individuals, companies, and financial and state institutions “represent different facets of a ruling kleptocracy set on reducing the working class to levels of poverty not seen for decades”.

Geraldine McNamara of Republican Sinn Fein said that the treatment of the workers at the Vita Cortex plant was “disgraceful”.

“It is nothing short of robbing the poor by NAMA who have frozen the assets of the parent company and are refusing to allow money to be used for redundancy payments to the workers who are left unemployed and penniless by the state and the company,” she said.

“At present the 26 counties has five businesses a day closing, all of which have a devastating effect on the workers and their families. What protection is there for them?” she asked.

“The workers at Vita Cortex are being sent from department to department in an effort to fob them off and break their spirit.

“They have staged a sit in on the factory premises since December 17th and will continue to do so until justice prevails.”


Meanwhile, members of the Occupy Cork protest movement have taken control of a NAMA property in the city centre.

The group has announced plans to turn the glass-fronted building into a community resource centre.

Members of the Occupy Cork group claim an unknown person left keys to the building, along with instructions, under a Christmas tree at their protest camp on Christmas Day.

Members of the group subsequently gained access to the six-storey property and have remained on site. The group now plans to turn the vacant property into a community resource centre, with space for classrooms, recording studios, alternative health tuition, a library, training and skills courses, a creche and a pop-up restaurant and cafe.

Up to 30 members of the group were in the building this week, some wearing high visibility jackets and doubling up as security workers. A petition calling on the building to be retained for civic use has also been launched online.

Liam Mulvaney, of the Occupy Cork movement, said: “The keys to the building were a present which we found in a box under our tree on the Grand Parade. There was a key inside it and instructions that the building was to be used. What we hope to create is a true civic space run by the people, for the people, with a resource that belongs to the people.

“NAMA has spoken about social dividend all year and we have seen little or none of this materialising.”

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© 2012 Irish Republican News