Gateway is planning to withdraw from the European market and is weighing its options for its Asian business. Staff in Ireland and Britain were informed yesterday.

One of the world's biggest PC retail firms was being vague when questioned today, repeating the unclear mantra: "Gateway is consulting with staff over the proposed closure of the UK and Ireland operations".

When asked whether this meant that the firm was closing operations and negotiating layoffs or that Gateway was merely considering the issue, the firm would not deviate from it's statement.

But a Gateway spokeswoman in Dublin expects the firm's proposed retreat from the European market to be complete before the end of the year or in early 2002. There are no confirmed details about Asia, she added.

Employees at Gateway's plant in Dublin and staff in the UK total 1,085 people. A 30-day consultation period has begun and it is expected that the employees will be put on notice after 90 days.

Gateway's UK press office said existing customers were "guaranteed access to quality support" from a third party. But the firm could not say which company would providing this support, nor when the firm would take over.

Ireland and the UK are the core of Gateway's activities in Europe. The company also has some employees in France and closed its office in Germany in July, dismissing 17 staff.