Labour leader Eamon Gilmore has attacked the Government over its handling of the Waterford Crystal crisis, stating he would have done all he could to ensure the retention of manufacturing at Kilbarry were he in power.

Speaking exclusively to The Munster Express following a Civic Reception at City Hall on Tuesday morning, Deputy Gilmore said he would have adopted an alternative tactic to tackling the problem.

“I think we would have looked at it differently,” he said. “All of the time, we’re looking at jobs and the cost of losing jobs. One of the problems with the Government’s approach to Waterford Crystal was that it looked at the cost of keeping the jobs: what it needed it to look at was the cost of losing them.”

Deputy Gilmore added: “Every job that’s lost in the Irish economy costs about €20,000 – so if you lose a thousand jobs that’s €20 million a year.

“You’re better to look at it and say, okay, can we use that €20 million to try and save jobs? There have been repeated examples of this happening all over the place; I think the Government has been throwing in the towel far too quickly on existing jobs and manufacturing.

Towel thrown in

“I mean, Waterford Crystal is one of the iconic brands of this country. I think it is a scandal that the Fianna Fáil Government threw in the towel on Waterford Crystal and that you now have Waterford Crystal as just a visitor centre but not somewhere where glass is made or cut. I think it’s a tragedy.”

The reasons for retaining the jobs were multiple in the Labour leader’s view.

“It’s not just about the jobs now; it’s about the assembly of the skills, the culture, the tradition and the interest that goes with that. And I think that it is a huge loss, not just to Waterford but to the country and I think it shouldn’t haven’t have been allowed to happen.”

He also strongly re-asserted his support for WIT’s upgrade to University status, a topic he addressed in depth when delivering the Michael O’Brien lecture in Waterford last year.

“The reasons for supporting WIT’s bid is not one that I made based on a purely regional argument,” added Deputy Gilmore.

Supports University of Waterford

“If we are to think about our recovering economic success into the future, it has to be based on education, on fourth level education, on research, on innovation: we have to invest more in education.

“The idea of a University of the South East is part of the building up of that educational and research infrastructure in the country. The case for it in the south east is very strong and the Labour Party supports it.”

Traversing the country to support his Local and European election candidates, Mr Gilmore believes the mood for political change across the country is now rife.

And should Fianna Fáil receive the pounding that many political pundits are predicting on June 5th, the Labour leader will call for a General Election.

“I think we’re at a moment of very big change politically in the country,” he continued.

“I think that that change is borne of the very extraordinary economic circumstances that we are now in. I think there is an understanding that, yes there is a global economic crisis but that it’s been made much worse here by the mismanagement of the economy by Fianna Fáil…

“If the momentum for change is reflected in the ballot box as strongly as we are hearing, then I think it will bring about the circumstances where the Government won’t have the authority to govern.

“And were that to happen, I believe that the calling of a General Election would be inevitable, bringing with it the change of government that the country now needs, a fresh start, fresh new ideas and fresh policies.”

Historic opportunity

For the first time, Deputy Gilmore believes that Irish politics is now a genuine three-way contest between Labour, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

“I think that there is a historic opportunity for Labour to make a very big breakthrough and that’s what I’m working towards,” he said.

“But it’s not about who’s sitting around the cabinet table and in what positions and it’s not about a change in personnel – it’s about a change of policy, a change in direction.

“The Labour Party’s way of dealing with the banks for example is different to both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and we’re making our case to the people on that basis.”