13 May 2006

End of an era as sugar factory closes

Irish Examiner

By Ray Ryan, Agribusiness Correspondent
13 May 2006

THE 80-year-old Irish sugar industry was brought to an end yesterday when Greencore closed the country’s last remaining processing plant in Mallow, Co Cork.

A radical reform of the sugar regime by the European Union led to the closure of one of the State’s foundation industries.

It had linked workers, farmers and local communities — both rural and urban — in economic and social wedlock over the years.

The closure of the Mallow plant will result in the loss of €100 million a year to the national economy and will affect the livelihoods of up to 5,000 people in one way or another.

A total of 324 employees were made redundant and 3,700 farmers no longer have a sugar processing outlet for their beet.

The closure will also impact on road and rail hauliers, agricultural contractors and other service providers. Most of the workers, who departed from the plant yesterday, were still worried about their redundancy package, according to their union officials.

SIPTU branch secretary and worker director Liam Lucey, along with Pat Guilfoyle, TEEU regional secretary, accused the company of not honouring a Labour Court recommendation on redundancy.

They called on Agriculture and Food Minister Mary Coughlan to intervene, urged the Labour Court to revisit the issue and indicated that the workers will continue to report for work until the issue is resolved.

But the company said the redundancy package was full and fair and that it has also made a range of career support services available to staff, which were widely taken up.

Ms Coughlan and Enterprise Minister Micheál Martin said in a statement last night it was extraordinary that Greencore seems to be stalling on the implementation of the Labour Court recommendation.

Labour TD Joe Sherlock, who worked at the factory for 18 years, said the State must consider the purchase of the plant following Greencore’s announcement that it is not interested in developing bio-ethanol production at the factory.

Mr Sherlock said Ms Coughlan has failed the people of Mallow by not securing the plant’s future.

Senator Paul Bradford, (FG) said the blame for the death of the sugar industry lies squarely with Ms Coughlan and the Government. A viable alternative energy policy rooted in the use of bio-fuels must be developed and Fine Gael has the plan to do it, he said.

Green Party deputy leader Mary White said the Government could have seized the opportunity to turn Ireland’s closing sugar industry into a profitable and much needed bio-fuel industry — but had inexplicably failed to do so.

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