Ayr beats Galway in Digital jobs fight

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The Independent Online
SCOTLAND secured the future of at least 1,000 jobs at Digital's Ayr plant at Ireland's expense after the computer group yesterday confirmed the closure of its mainframe manufacturing operation at Ballybrit, Galway.

Irish claims that Britain offered public-contract inducements in breach of EC competition regulations to swing the decision are to be investigated by the Commission.

In Brussels yesterday, Seamus Brennan, the Irish Commerce and Technology Minister, secured a commitment from Karel van Miert, the EC competition commissioner, that he would seek information from the UK authorities on allegations that British ministers threatened Digital with losing pounds 400m of public contracts unless Ayr won the battle for survival against the Irish plant.

The ending of mainframe production in Galway, with output expected to go to Ayr, comes after concerted lobbying by British ministers. Although the company's European production has been under review for at least six months, Digital employees in Galway said yesterday they understood that their plant's future was secure until two weeks ago, when senior management suddenly switched their support to the Scottish location.

Their claims have been supported by Kieran McGowan, head of Ireland's Industrial Development Authority, who said he understood the Galway plant had been secure three weeks ago.

Irish authorities believe that contacts between Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, Ian Lang, the Secretary of State for Scotland, and Digital earlier this month played a critical part in the final decision. Mr Lang denied that British contracts had been offered to keep the jobs at Ayr.

Digital said it had taken a decision to have a single systems plant in Europe, that it had opted to have it in Britain, and that the closure decision had been taken only this week.

A Digital software facility serving European markets will remain in Galway, employing 350.