‘Massive boost for Limerick’ following lifting of US sanctions on Aughinish owner

Norma Prendiville

Reporter:

Norma Prendiville

Hundreds of workers are breathing a sigh of relief following the announcement that the US sanctions are to be lifted

Hundreds of workers are breathing a sigh of relief following the announcement that the US sanctions are to be lifted

THE 450 workers at Aughinish Alumina, and the hundreds of other downstream workers who rely on the plant, are breathing a sigh of relief following the announcement that the US sanctions against the company’s owner, Rusal, are to be lifted. 

This is due to come into force after a 30-day review period by Congress, but this is not expected to be an obstacle. 

The announcement has been widely welcomed in Limerick, with Minister of State Patrick O'Donovan saying it was a “massive boost for Limerick”.

“Aughinish is a key part of the global supply of aluminium so the decision taken in Washington will provide certainty. It is important for all of us to bear in mind that the decision is still subject to a thirty day review period by the US Congress,” he said.

“Over the last number of months as the local TD and Minister I've been working on a weekly basis with the management at Aughinish ensuring that every possible resource in Government was channelled to make sure Aughinish secured the best outcome.

“I can say that every piece of our Government has worked to deliver this result. I know from my ongoing dealings in government that the leadership shown by our Taoiseach and Ministers and the tireless work by our officials across several departments with our diplomats in Washington has been magnificent.

“The close cooperation between the company's local management, our Government and the US Authorities have got us where we are now and as the local TD and Government Minister I can say no stone has been left unturned on this journey. I hope after the next thirty days that the company moves forward with renewed ambition in Limerick,” he added.

“It is great news,” said Fine Gael TD Tom Neville, adding that it was particularly welcome in the run-up to Christmas.

“As a TD for the area, I have worked very hard behind the scenes to try to make sure that every avenue the government could cover on this was covered.” 

“This is very welcome news and will come as a huge relief to the workers, contractors and suppliers associated with Rusal Aughinish,” Fianna Fail’s Niall Collins said.

“So many local jobs were at risk here and the potential fall out would have been catastrophic.”

Making the announcement on Wednesday evening, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Simon Coveney said: “While we need to await the conclusion of the Congressional review period, today’s announcement should mean that Aughinish will soon no longer be impacted by the sanctions.”

Last April, the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control imposed sanctions on a number of Russian oligarchs, citing malign activities by Russia. Among them was Oleg Deripaska, a majority shareholder in the EN+Group which owns 48 per cent of Rusal, the company which owns Aughinish. Since then, the authorities deferred action several times to allow the EN+ Group to come up with a solution to address Mr Deripaska’s interest. 

Meanwhile, Ireland launched a diplomatic offensive on the issue, stressing the unintended consequences of the sanctions on workers in Limerick. The Taoiseach, Tánaiste, various ministers including Minister of State Patrick O’Donovan and members of the Irish embassy in Washington, all engaged in intensive talks with US officials and members of Congress. 

As a result of this diplomatic mission, a number of short-term reprieves were granted by the US Treasury because as Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin asserted, the target of the sanctions was Mr Deripaska and not the companies he owned.

“The US government is not targeting the hardworking people who depend on Rusal and its subsidiaries,” he said. 

Earlier this month, Finance Minister Paschal Donohue travelled to the US to  meet Mr Mnuchin and this Wednesday came the pay-back for the months-long diplomatic offensive. 

As Minister Coveney put it this Wednesday: “Today’s announcement is therefore a very welcome return on the intensive efforts made to protect Aughinish Alumina and the many jobs that are sustained and supported by the firm.”