THE chief executive of Liberty Insurance has confirmed that a restructuring of the business will see a number of departments including finance and documentation move from Enniskillen to Cavan, leaving just a sales office in Fermanagh.
70 people in Enniskillen are set to be made redundant by the firm after a 30-day voluntary redundancy process was announced last week while 75 in Cavan and 140 in Dublin will lose their jobs.
But Patrick O'Brien, chief executive of Liberty Insurance, has told The Impartial Reporter that the redundancies "could not have been avoided" and are necessary in order for the business to operate on a more "effective platform".
"We have finance people in Enniskillen, Cavan and Dublin so there is a number of roles which are going to come out of Enniskillen as we look to centralise various functionalities. Our finance function will be centralised in Cavan, marketing function in Dublin and documentation centralised in Cavan. At the same time we are fully committed to what we are doing and this [the Enniskillen office] will effectively become our sales office. We would expect that the call centre is going to be a critical part of our business and hopefully in time as the business grows there will growth in that part of the business," he said.
Mr O'Brien explained the company will move into the Northern Ireland and UK market as well as the Republic of Ireland early next year.
"In Northern Ireland we want to have the full service strategy and be selling motor, household, and commercial business. We will have a full launch next year with a range of new products." He said the rationale behind the job cuts was predominately linked to the overall decision of moving into the UK market.
"If we go back to when Liberty took on the company in November last year we were of the view at that point of time that the business was overstaffed and there was a lot of uncertainty so we didn't know if we were going to exercise the UK option or not." Mr O'Brien has told staff that the company's preference is to sort out the redundancies "as quickly as possible" and added: "We would look at completing this within a 30 day period. Our intent is for staff who are leaving to leave at the end of March, although if people need a bit of extra flexibility we can try to facilitate that. What we don't want to get into is a situation where we have people leaving every day for six months; we'd prefer to have most people leaving on the same date." He admits employees were "naturally disappointed" by the news last week.
"I suspect the employees had known there was a certain amount of uncertainty for sometime. I think they wouldn't have been necessarily shocked with the message, but shocked with the announcement. The overall economic environment doesn't help either. It's a tough time for everybody," he said.
Mr O'Brien described taking over Quinn Insurance last year as "a challenge" but added that he could see the potential to make it a success.
"Our business is going to be much smaller than the Quinn Insurance was in the past. If we go back pre-administration the Quinn Insurance business was almost 400 million euros, the business we are taking on now is less than 100 million euros. It is down to 25 per cent of what it was in its peak and I guess we need to reflect that in our overall headcount.
"We took over a business that was distressed, effectively the business had been in administration for 20 months at that time and had been shrinking in that time. The administrators didn't have a full commercial remit, they were focusing on selling the business. We have spent the last 12 months trying to rebuild the business and had to do a number of things. The business 12 months on is in a lot better shape than it was a year ago," he said.
Responding to the news the Quinn family said the job losses was a "terrible indictment" on the deal they say was agreed by Anglo Irish Bank and the Joint Administrators of Quinn Insurance in April 2011.
In a statement to the Impartial Reporter, the family said: "In October 2010, six and a half months after the administrators were appointed to Quinn Insurance they assured the Irish public that "there would be no call on the Insurance Compensation Fund" yet today the figure stands at �1.65 billion." Reacting to this, Mr O'Brien said: "I can't say anything on where the business got to before we took it over. But I can say that when we took it over is was severely distressed so how it got to this state is really for someone else to comment on. It had a lot of difficulties and a lot of work had to be done." The Quinns also said that in April 2011 the administrators assured both the staff of Quinn Insurance and the Irish public that all the jobs would be preserved in Ireland, north and south.
Asked for his response, Mr O'Brien said: "Liberty never came out and said all jobs were saved. I think, probably, what our position would be is that Liberty was an attractive suitor because we didn't have a significant presence in the Irish market. Some of the other people who were potentially looking at the business were established players in the market and if one of those companies had bought the business there would have likely been a lot more consolidation. Liberty was probably the best option for protecting employment but the reality is there is no guarantee of employment in any business," he said, adding: "We didn't spend two years chasing Quinn Insurance to be an ulcer around the Irish and UK market. We see this as a strategic opportunity for us to become major players in the market." When asked if there would be further job cuts in Enniskillen, Mr O'Brien said: "We certainly hope not. Our expectation is that what we are doing now is sufficient. We think we are now putting the business on a right footing for the way forward." Liberty Insurance has said the firm has secured 415 related jobs within the organisation by taking on the Northern Ireland and Great Britain markets and say employees were addressed at briefings in Cavan, Dublin and Enniskillen. A number of staff members have claimed they first heard the news when it was reported in the media.