Dáil debates

Wednesday, 27 September 2006

8:00 pm

Photo of Dan NevilleDan Neville (Limerick West, Fine Gael)

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for providing the opportunity, which I requested yesterday, to raise this issue of vital importance to west Limerick, namely, the news that the processing plant, Castlemahon Food Products, is in liquidation and likely to close. It is a major blow to the local population, especially to the 350 people employed at the plant and in allied work at Castlemahon. They face a very bleak situation. Many of them have been in the plant for decades and developed skills that must be recognised. The plant should be saved in some way through working with the liquidator to ensure that those skills are utilised.

The likelihood that Castlemahon will close compounds a situation which arose in January 2005 when 140 jobs were lost at Kantoher Poultry Products, adjacent to the area, as well as 140 jobs at that time in Castlemahon. Between direct and indirect employment there could be a loss of 1,000 jobs in that small region, where the poultry industry was so important since 1960 when Castlemahon moved into that area, having been established as a co-operative in 1920. The factory has been a valuable employer and an integral part of the community in west Limerick, an area where there has been considerable deprivation. Employees, their families and local suppliers are rocked by this news. The economic cost to the area is enormous.

It is especially devastating in an area of west Limerick where the population is in decline and where alternative job opportunities are severely limited. Suppliers to the plant will be severely hit, too, and their situation must be immediately clarified. In the case of Kantoher there was continuation of supply to the parent plant at Kerry. We do not know what the situation is in the case of Castlemahon and it is quite serious. In fact, this an area where there has been increased unemployment in recent times, as the figures show. It is high time that the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Minister for Agriculture and Food opened their eyes to the haemorrhaging of employment from regional rural communities such as this before we become a country of ghost towns.

The Government must immediately organise a committee of relevant services, high profile people and institutions to establish replacement industries and ensure the availability of employment for those being made redundant so that families have an opportunity to continue to live in the area, pay their mortgages and rear their children there. A particular responsibility rests with the major party in Government, Fianna Fáil, to ensure that the 300 to 350 jobs are replaced immediately. The loss of Castlemahon Food Products would eliminate sixfold the work done by many organisations and public-spirited people who campaigned over many years to have 50 jobs decentralised to Newcastle West.

The Minister might say that the poultry industry in Ireland is a highly competitive one. It is, for two reasons. The first is the admittance of third country products from countries such as Thailand where increased production results in products being labelled as Irish. There is no traceability. The effect such cheap products will have on the poultry industry has been pointed out time and again, yet this situation has been accepted by the Government. Poultry farmers have survived in Ireland and especially in this area by dint of hard work and strategic expansion where possible. The industry as a whole, however, has suffered dramatically from increased costs. The cost issue of the Castlemahon plant is something that has been raised.

The industry must also meet excessively high standards imposed by Government while competing against the inferior products that in many cases are not even traceable. The issue of the importation of Third World products is crucial in this competitive area and the Minister must take this on board. Growers have invested substantially in their enterprises. Many of them have heavy borrowings. Many will see most of their livelihoods destroyed. They will have to meet their borrowings regardless of what happens. I took a call from a poultry producer today who simply asked me whether he would need planning permission to knock his poultry house, because that is all he can do with it. When I checked it out, by the way, the answer was "No".

That is the sad situation such people find themselves in. Since this Administration came to power, an industry that was crucial to the economy of that area of west Limerick, from Newcastle West to Castlemahon to Kantoher and up as far as Charleville, has disappeared. That is a legacy which this Government has given to the poultry industry and its 1,000 employees in that area of west Limerick and up to 100 suppliers who will be made redundant, without the opportunity to negotiate redundancy packages. I ask the Minister to get the Government to talk to the liquidator to ensure that what can be saved is saved. The skills of the people there, built up over some 46 years, is the key to ensuring that the poultry industry continues in this area. I thank the Minister for his time.


No comments

Log in or join to post a public comment.