Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Monday 24 April 2017

Bid to revive Irish sugar beats a path to Brussels

Cork Co Councillor Tom Barry addresses farmers at the meeting in Cillin Hill, Kilkenny
Cork Co Councillor Tom Barry addresses farmers at the meeting in Cillin Hill, Kilkenny
Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

The campaign for the restoration of Ireland's sugar beet industry moves to Brussels next week when former sugar beet growers will meet senior EU Commission officials.

The meeting has been organised by Ireland East MEP Mairead McGuinness and takes place next Tuesday.

The farmer delegation will include Willie French from Wexford and Jim O'Regan from Cork. The two former sugar beet growers have been among the main drivers of the campaign to revive the industry.

It is understood that the delegation will hold talks with four officials from the Commission, including two representatives from the section which oversees the EU sugar regime.

Mr O'Regan confirmed that no more public meetings will be held to canvas farmer support for the initiative.

Close to 750 people packed Cillin Hill, Kilkenny, last Wednesday to hear proposals for the revival of the industry.

Despite the success of the public meetings, Mr O'Regan said the focus would now move to securing political support for the campaign.

Powerful

"The fact that 1,700 people have come to three public meetings over the last month to support the revival of the sugar sector is a powerful statement in its own right and one that the farm organisations, the Department of Agriculture nor politicians can ignore," Mr O'Regan said.

He said the campaign organisers were setting up a steering committee.

Mr O'Regan said the farmers group had also sought a meeting with the Minister for Agriculture, Brendan Smith.

The handling of negotiations leading up to the 2006 closure of the Mallow sugar factory drew angry criticism at the Kilkenny meeting.

Former Cork beet grower Allan Navratil lambasted Greencore, the Department of Agriculture and the IFA.

Pointing to the presence of Anglo Irish Bank board members Ned Sullivan and Sean FitzPatrick on the Greencore board, Mr Navratil said that was all that needed to be said about the company's commitment to the Irish food processing sector.

Mr Navratil also questioned why the three options, apart from full closure of the industry, were not comprehensively considered at the time.

These options included:



  • Pay a levy roughly equivalent to four years' profits and continue sugar production as usual;
  • Develop a 50:50 sugar/ ethanol industry with a subsidy of €109m (35pc) for partial conversion of existing processing plants;
  • Total conversion to ethanol and a subsidy of €234m (75pc).


Mr Navratil said that as the "proponents of closure", the Department, Greencore and the IFA were culpable for the loss of the sugar industry which went during their "inept watch".

However, Michael Hoey, of Dublin-based food company Country Crest, said it was time to draw a "line in the sand" on the controversies of five years ago and move on getting the industry back up and going.

Mr Hoey said he had sizeable and guaranteed contracts for Irish sugar if the industry could be reinstated.

Teagasc's Professor Jimmy Burke reiterated that any new sugar beet processing plant would have to be an integrated bio-refinery whose output would include bioethanol, sugar, biogas and bioenergy.

The statement by the director general of the Department of Agriculture, Tom Moran, to the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture that he would be in favour of a feasibility study on the resumption of the sugar industry was broadly welcomed.

Indo Farming