Wednesday, 29 September 2021
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
I am glad of this opportunity to offer my commiserations and sympathies, and those of my constituents, to Glenisk, the Cleary family, their staff and their suppliers, as a result of the devastating blow inflicted on them by a major fire at the plant on Monday. I thank the staff for ensuring that everybody got out safely and the emergency services for the quick response and the manner in which they dealt with the issue. I met with Vincent Cleary and other staff at the site yesterday. They are shaken but resolute and resilient, as they have proven previously. It is a popular company and family. It is professional in the way in which it has grown the business to be world-renowned. It is a leader in its own field in the promotion of dairy and organics. It was in that field long before many others could even spell the word. It has acted as a mentor to many other people in my constituency and beyond. It is now time for that to be reciprocated in this hour of need for Glenisk and the Clearys. I was initially very proud of the reaction that I have seen in the community, locality and constituency, being the faithful people that we are, and even beyond that, nationally and internationally, and heard in the floods of support across the divide in the business sector.
I spoke with the Taoiseach's office yesterday. I know he has made contact with the company and managing director, ensuring them that the State will make every effort to assist in their hour of need. I use this opportunity to ask the Minister of State to assure me, the company and, by extension, our constituents, that the Government through its State authorities, the relevant Departments, whether the Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Agriculture, Food and the Marine, or Housing, Local Government and Heritage, which deals with planning, will ensure that arms of the State immediately come to the assistance of this company and provide it with every sort of help, assistance and expertise that is necessary for it to rebound and regain its place as a world-renowned company.
I concur with what has been said by the previous speaker. This is a significant blow in the local area. The Deputy referred to County Offaly. There will also be a significant effect in County Laois, since there is an effect on the workforce. Almost 90 people were working in that business. It is a sustainable business, with long-serving staff, some of them with up to three decades of service, on the Laois-Offaly border. Glenisk is a strong brand. Anybody who likes yoghurt will know that. It is a sustainable brand. It is an organic, quality product. It has been built up over a long time. In fairness to the company, it is still taking milk supplies but 50 farmers are dependent on this plant as well. It is important to the local economy. Unfortunately, that business which has been built up over three decades is a burnt-out shell now and there is not even a phone line going into it. I spoke to somebody from the company yesterday. To say that they are shocked would be an understatement. The loss of 90 jobs in this area is the equivalent of 900 in Dublin. The Minister of State will be aware of that. I would have thought this was a matter for the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, whom I acknowledge is out of the country.
I welcome that the Minister of State is present because he represents the constituency and he knows what myself and Deputy Cowen are talking about and how important it is. The company wants to rebuild and that will take time. I contacted the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment yesterday, like the previous speaker, urging it to engage with the company and the managing director, Mr. Vincent Cleary. I heard him on the radio early yesterday morning when I was coming here and he said he hoped to have a preliminary plan in place by mid-morning. That shows the kind of energy that they have put into the company over the years to drive it and build it. We need to provide each and every support we can to this company and to the work force.
I have been asked to take this on behalf of the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment who cannot be here this morning. I thank Deputy Cowen for raising this important issue in the Tullamore-Killeigh area of County Offaly, as it relates to a long-standing business there. I also acknowledge Deputy Stanley for raising the matter, which affects the Laois side of the constituency because Killeigh is quite close to the county boundary.
It was a shock to all of us to learn of the fire at the Glenisk yogurt factory in Killeigh on Monday, 27 September. Thankfully, there was no loss of life and the company and its staff must be commended on their swift action and adherence to their fire safety protocols in achieving this. Glenisk is a long-established business in the midlands and Offaly. It was started in 1987 by Jack and Mary Cleary and has been continued by the family. Vincent Cleary is now a very active managing director of the business. It has approximately 90 loyal staff, many of whom have been there for more than 20 years, and it has 50 suppliers of organic milk and it is also important that be maintained.
Glenisk is a long-established client of Enterprise Ireland, an agency of the Department of Enterprise Trade and Employment. I am informed by officials in the Department that Enterprise Ireland have been in contact with the company following the fire. The company is assessing the damage at present, and Enterprise Ireland has indicated that the company will have the full support of the agency as its rebuilds and recovers. That is the most important thing that I can say today, namely that State agencies will assist in every way because Glenisk is a brand leader, not only locally but internationally, including across the EU. Deputy Cowen mentioned other State agencies that could play a role. He also mentioned planning issues and I will come back on that. My Department is clear on what has to be done and the Government will do that through Enterprise Ireland and the Department.
Job losses were mentioned. I hope there are no job losses at the end of this. It was a shock but the Cleary family is determined to get business up and running in Glenisk as soon as possible. I was very encouraged by their early remarks, after they recovered from the shock, about regrouping and rebuilding. That is the spirit that has brought them this far and I know it will continue into the future.
For those not familiar with the business, the company operates in the competitive landscape of high-end, premium organic yogurt, competing with Danone brands, Activia and Liberté, and with Yeo Valley but possess a powerful brand image within Ireland and the UK. The company is recognised for their premium, clean label, organic cow's milk yogurt and goat's milk dairy. The company have taken action in respect to their climate footprint and has a strong focus on sustainability. In the past 12 months it has removed close to 90 tonnes of plastic from its packaging and can now describe its packaging as carbon neutral.
I am informed that Glenisk is currently Ireland's largest manufacturer of branded yogurt with a turnover of in excess of €27.5 million, an Irish market share of 15% and employs in the region of 90 people. The company has also taken positive action in light of the uncertainties relating to Brexit and the EU UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, TCA. Glenisk has refocused its company's market diversification strategy towards continental Europe to mitigate the significant risk associated with over-reliance on the Irish market. It has a high market share and I encourage the company to continue its work to increase its market share throughout Europe.
I thank the Minister of State for reaffirming what the Taoiseach said on the floor of the House yesterday on behalf of the Government that this will be acted upon. When I talk about other Departments and authorities responsibility, I am mindful of the professional commitment made as early as yesterday by the company. Its commitment to its community and excellence will be maintained. I am sure it will be done at a facility that is commensurate to the company and will be rebuilt as soon as is practicably possible. To that end I hope that the local authority will work hand in glove with the company to ensure that every pathway is cleared to ensure that happens efficiently and quickly according to the wishes of the Cleary family. To do that, they may have to go through a planning process. I had hoped the planning reform Bill this year might include something for families who find themselves in such a bind and that a pathway for planning might be more readily available than the one they have to travel. For example, this might meet with the disapproval of the likes of An Taisce, which has held up the Glanbia plant in Belview for the past five years. This are my thoughts, fears and concerns.
I welcome the response about State agencies and particularly the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. That is essential. I also urge that the Department of Social Protection provide a liaison because there are 90 households without an income today and this week. Everything is destroyed, including offices. Those people will need every assistance in the short term and hopefully the company can get back up and running again.
Glenisk is exactly the kind of company that we want in Ireland. It is a local company providing a service locally, providing jobs using local products. We talk a lot about the green economy but this is the green economy in action: organic yogurt, sourced locally, with low carbon miles. The Minister of State outlined the work that it has done in waste reduction. It ticks all the boxes. We spend a lot of time attracting companies. That is good, we should continue doing that and I am all for foreign direct investment where we can get it but here is a company on our doorstep. The will is there as is the workforce. We must move heaven and earth. We in this House have an obligation to provide our support for that and to encourage the Government, its Departments and their officials to leave no stone unturned to get this company back up and running. I want to emphasise and encourage the role of the Department of Social Protection. These workers need help in the short term and I encourage that if it can be given.
Deputy Cowen mentioned that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine should have a role as well as the local authorities in assisting in every way. I am quite sure there will be absolute determination in all Departments, including that my Department and Enterprise Ireland will assist.
On Deputy Stanley's comments, as I mentioned earlier, it is hoped there will be no job losses as a result of this occurrence but there may be some short- or medium-term issues to be dealt with. The employment services and State agencies, including Intreo, will give top priority as soon as necessary.
Glenisk has been to the forefront in sustainable reduction, green energy and carbon offsetting and assisted by various supports from Enterprise Ireland over the past decade. It has won many awards for its environmental efforts and activities, including for recycling and heat recovery. As part of the Origin Green programme, Glenisk has also implemented a mandatory emissions reduction target throughout its supply chain, not just in its own plant. That includes right down to farm level and we mentioned the milk suppliers earlier.
I understand that the key priority for the company and the family in the past few days has been to get the milk processing unit back up and running, so that the organic cow’s milk and organic goat’s milk can be packaged and back on the shop shelves as soon as possible. However, the yoghurt processing plant will involve a more difficult process to get up and running, because they have to talk to the suppliers of the machinery and their materials suppliers. There is, therefore, a possibility that some of it can move immediately to the supermarket and the shop shelves. However, the yoghurt processing plant is the difficult part of the process. At least the milk will continue to be collected. It may have to be processed temporarily somewhere else in the short term. However, I assure the Deputies that I will continue to work with all stakeholders to examine any potential future appropriate assistance. They should keep in contact directly with the Office of the Taoiseach to make sure every arm of the State provides all necessary support.