THE IDA has admitted Ireland's pharmaceutical industry is facing "turmoil", as cuts at Pfizer add to mounting jobs losses across the sector.
Pfizer's decision yesterday to cut 150 jobs at its manufacturing facility in Newbridge, Co Kildare, combined with MSD's recent decision to close its Swords plant, means more than 700 pharmaceutical workers have learnt they faced redundancy in the past two weeks.
Mayo-based medical device manufacturer Baxter also announced plans for 110 cuts over the weekend.
Barry O'Leary, the head of foreign direct investment agency IDA Ireland, told the Irish Independent that the sector was "facing big challenges".
"For one, there is just more competition. A number of products manufactured in Ireland have lost their patents, meaning competition from generic drugmakers is flooding in," he said.
Two major Pfizer drugs partly produced in Ireland – erectile disfunction treatment Viagra and cholesterol medicine Lipitor – have each lost their patents in the last two years.
"There are not enough new products being rolled out to compensate for this and the situation has been compounded by mergers," said Mr O'Leary. "Pfizer's takeover of fellow drug company Wyeth in 2009 left it with 11 different facilities in Ireland, an enormous amount."
Mr O'Leary said an estimated 70,000 to 90,000 pharmaceutical jobs had been cut around the world in the last four years. "When you consider that, Ireland has actually fared reasonably well," he said.
"I know that's no consolation to the people losing their jobs in Newbridge, but I genuinely believe that most of them will regain employment with other drug companies. There is still a healthy pipeline of investment coming down the line, especially in the higher-value area of biotechnology".
Siptu organiser Frank Jones (above) said the raft of cuts across the sector in recent years did not bode well for re-employment chances.
SIPTU representatives are meeting with the company's management tomorrow, but have already said that any redundancies will be compulsory as the pool of workers who will accept a voluntary redundancy package has been exhausted.
Mr Jones, who has handled redundancy negotiations with several drug companies on behalf of Siptu workers, does not think Pfizer is finished slashing jobs at Newbridge.
The 700 staff at the one million square foot drug manufacturing facility in Co Kildare who were notified of the 150 job losses yesterday at 8.30am, just three weeks before Christmas.
Linda Mannion, who has worked in packaging operations for the last 17 years, said it was a "shock to everyone".
My job is basically gone. It's been a good place to work and it's sad to go," she said.
The 41-year-old from Newbridge said the mood at the plant yesterday was low and staff were "miserable".
"It's really sombre, morale is low. We're figuring out what is going to happen. People have a month to decide whether they will go voluntary or involuntary. We knew there was going to be an announcement, but we thought it would be in January."
It is the second blow for the community of Newbridge in recent weeks.
Last month there was consternation at the transfer of Newbridge Credit Union to Permanent TSB.
Mum of two Ann-Marie Gray (32) from Newbridge said the job losses were a depressing sign of the times. Her brother Alan Kavanagh was made redundant by Pfizer in the last round of job cuts made in 2010. At the time he had been working at the plant for 19 years.
"This will definitely have some impact on the area," she said. "I think we are so used to losing jobs now, it's another one bites the dust. I suppose it is the way things are going. Hopefully something will come along and take on those 150 jobs. All you can do is be positive."
David O'Reilly president of Newbridge Chamber of Commerce, said the job losses were "absolutely devastating for the town".
"Just before Christmas, as well, makes it worse. It is another blow to a town that is trying to build itself up."