Thursday, 8 February 2001
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mr. Cassidy: I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, for coming before the House at such short notice to discuss the serious position in which the people of Moate, County Westmeath, and the surrounding districts find themselves.
On Wednesday morning of last week the Kerry Group announced that it was closing down Dawn Dairies in Moate, County Westmeath. Despite its loyalty, the Kerry Group has not seen fit to provide adequate explanations to its employees for this devastating news. Local businesses and suppliers who have also been extremely loyal to Dawn Dairies deserve an explanation, as do its customers – my wife and I have given the dairy our custom for the past 32 years – and local people. The very least the Kerry Group should do is provide an adequate explanation.
A total of 62 loyal and hard-working people have had their means of earning a living wiped out at the stroke of a pen and without good reason. Many of these people have been employed by the company since its establishment in Moate and have given a lifetime of loyal and faithful service. To say that this news is devastating is an understatement. The loss of 62 jobs in a town without any other manufacturing industry is of horrendous proportions. It must be remembered that 62 jobs lost in Moate is the same as  700 or 800 lost in Dublin. The effects will be the same.
Dawn Dairies was the premier employer in Moate and made a huge contribution to the town since the mid-1950s. The company has served the town very well as an employer and a sponsor of many events held by organisations in County Westmeath. This makes its decision to pull out of Moate all the more difficult to comprehend. Having become such an important feature of both the social and economic life of the town, it beggars belief that the Kerry Group can now take the decision to withdraw from the town without considering the devastating consequences for it. As a businessman, I know only too well that decisions of this nature are made on financial grounds. However, I ask Kerry Group to take account of the social and business implications of its decision, to bear in mind the potential devastation the loss of these jobs will have for Moate and to reconsider its decision.
I call on the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney, to use her influence to seek a reversal of this decision and also to secure other industries which could offer employment to the inhabitants of this town. It is good that the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, who is possibly the most efficient, respected and talented Minister of State and who passes through Moate on three or four occasions each week on his way to Leinster House, is present because I know he will listen to our case.
If Dawn Dairies will not reverse its decision, I call on the Tánaiste and the Minister of State to establish a task force to consider the problems faced by the town of Moate. I request that a captain of industry be appointed to chair that task force which should include among its members representatives from IDA Ireland, Westmeath county development, officials from the Department and other individuals the Tánaiste believes could either try to fill the vacuum or save existing jobs.
I have served as a member of Westmeath County Council since 1985 and there have been only three occasions on which standing orders had to be suspended. Councillor Tom Allen, who is a dedicated and hard-working representative of the people of Moate, proposed that standing orders be suspended on Monday last in order for a debate to take place on this serious crisis. I seconded his proposal and gave my word that I would raise this matter in the Seanad this week to see if action can be taken. I thank the Cathaoirleach for acceding to my request in that regard.
From experience of the dilemmas that have faced various other towns in the past, it appears that the establishment of a task force is the best route to take. That is our only hope. Dawn Dairies was the principal industry in a town that is increasing in size and has many new residents. The greatest problem thrown up by the advent of  the Celtic tiger is for areas which act as nothing more than residential centres and can offer no employment opportunities. Everyone who lives in such areas must travel by road or rail to reach their place of work. In the event of a downturn in the economy these areas will be devastated because people will be obliged to sell their houses due to the lack local employment opportunities. I hope such a downturn will not happen for a long period or that it will never happen again. However, history has shown that this is not the case because industries and the economy experience highs and lows.
In this golden era in which we find ourselves and in which it is good to be in business, it should not be very difficult to find an industry to replace that which has served Moate for the past 40 years. I look forward to the Minister of State's reply.
Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Treacy): I share Senator Cassidy's concern at the proposed loss of 62 jobs at Dawn Dairies in Moate, County Westmeath. The loss of these jobs will be a great disappointment to the people of Moate and the surrounding area. I sympathise with these people and their representatives, Senator Cassidy, the Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke, and Councillor Allen, who have been affected by this situation. I fully appreciate the difficulties being experienced by the redundant employees and their families.
The liquid milk market in Ireland is becoming increasingly competitive due in part to imports of low priced milk from Northern Ireland and the increased market power of the multiples. Other major competitors in the market have moved to rationalise their liquid milk businesses to improve efficiency and to ensure competitive prices to consumers. The Kerry Group, for its part, has responded to these competitive pressures by reviewing its liquid milk business.
Arising from this review, the group has decided to consolidate the liquid milk business. Part of the rationalisation involves the closure of the Dawn Dairy operation in Moate and concentration of processing operations in Galway, Limerick and Kilkenny. The operation in Moate will be transferred to Galway and Limerick where processing capacity exists. The company will continue to service the local market and normal collection of milk will be maintained.
I understand that the Kerry Group is offering re-employment to the employees of Dawn Dairies who are losing their jobs in other Kerry Group plants and are assisting staff in evaluating various options. I am confident that the Kerry Group will meet its obligations as Avonmore did in similar circumstances. A total of 22 staff are being kept on to man a core operation in Moate.
In response to the job losses in Moate, FÁS has given a full briefing to the management regarding the supports available to the redundant workers.  These supports include briefing workers on the options they may pursue, one to one interviews with each worker to ascertain specific needs and making available a short training programme on job seeking skills and confidence building measures.
The State development agencies are working closely with the Kerry Group and local and other interests to attract replacement projects and encourage the development of existing industry. The establishment of a task force would send out the wrong signals about Moate, which is an attractive location for industry. It is 60 miles from Dublin and 10 miles from Athlone and is well serviced. A number of new factory spaces are being provided by a private developer. There is already a high level of interest in these units suggesting a  strong outlook for employment. The focused agency approach combined with the locally based approach, both of which are addressing the jobs situation, make it unnecessary to establish a specific task force.
I echo Senator Cassidy's sentiments and reinforce his call to the Kerry Group to review its decision. I know Moate and I spent 15 years working in many sectors of the co-operative industry, such as milk, wool and livestock marketing. Moate has a large agricultural base and is known for the quality of its livestock and milk produced. It is an ideal centre for processing liquid milk. I hope the impact on the community of this down-sizing can be minimised.
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