COUNTY Limerick TD Niall Collins has said that every day the war in Ukraine continues, he is growing more concerned for the future of 450 workers at the Russian-owned Aughinish Alumina in Askeaton.
The Fianna Fáil Minister of State said yesterday it was worrying the UK government had imposed serious financial sanctions on Russian billionaire oligarch, Oleg Deripaska.
Mr Deripaska is a major shareholder in Aughinish’s parent company En+ Group and this has led to its suspension from trading on the EU Emissions Trading System by the Environmental Protection Agency .
When asked for his assessment of these sanctions, Deputy Collins replied: “The situation is very fluid.”
“The government will continue to engage with the management of Aughinish and we will seek to support them,” he said.
“The longer the war goes on the more and more we are beginning to see the impact of it here in Ireland, whether it’s energy security, food security, everything really. We will just have to try to work to ensure that the sanctions that are impacting here don’t impact as harshly as they might do”.
Asked if he was more concerned now for the future of Aughinish, he replied: “Yes”, I have always been concerned by virtue of its ownership structure”.
However, Deputy Collins reiterated comments last week by Taoiseach Micheal Martin that Aughinish was of strategic importance because it is Europe’s largest alumina refinery exporting to smelters around the world.
“Micheál Martin correctly pointed out last week that the alumina product that Aughinish makes is used all over the world. It’s an integral component in all sorts of manufacturing processes,” he said.
Meanwhile, Askeaton-based Fianna Fáil councillor Kevin Sheahan called on the Taoiseach not to support financial sanctions against Aughinish.
Mr Sheahan said any sanctions imposed on the plant’s owners could threaten 450 local jobs.
In 2018 both Rusal and E+ Group were hit by US sanctions which were lifted in 2019 after Mr Deripaska sold his majority holding in the companies.
Mr Sheahan said Ireland needed to “box clever” when it comes to punishing Russia for the war in Ukraine, without causing collateral damage to Aughinish.
“There is no justification whatsoever for our government to impose any sanctions on Aughinish, and closing that plant wouldn’t put one pound of butter on a table in any kitchen in Ukraine. There are other ways,” said Cllr Sheahan.
“I believe any impositions we have to impose upon Russia for the way it has been behaving should be proportionate to our population and size of our country and size of our economy.
“When Britain and the US have done a fraction of what they have been talking about, before ever the war started, threatening what they were going to do and how it would cripple Russia. It hasn’t happened yet. When they have done their bit, and if it’s in proportion to their size, economy, and population, then we should do ours.”
“We don’t have to be out in the front of this posse at all. We should do our fair share, proportionate to our circumstances, that’s how I feel,” he added.
Speaking in Limerick last Friday, Taoiseach Michael Martin pledged the government would do all it could to ensure Aughinish was not impacted by sanctions against Russia.
“What’s very important is that the balance is right, that the objective of sanctions is to punish Russia not Europe, and that applies to Aughinish Alumina and others because Aughinish is of strategic importance to Europe,” Mr Martin said.