MORE than 100 jobs will be lost as Dawn Fresh Foods (DFF) confirmed the closure of a Co Tipperary plant.
The loss of 104 jobs is a huge blow for the town of Fethard, which has a population of just 1,000 people. The facility, which was opened in 1984, will now close on a phased basis with all jobs expected to be shed by November.
The plant was involved in the production of chilled and frozen convenience meat dishes for the Irish and UK markets.
DFF is part of the Queally Group, which also owns QK Cold Stores in Naas.
The firm blamed the closure on a steep decline in sales over the past five years, coupled with rising costs and the impact of the sterling/euro exchange rate on its core market.
A DFF spokesperson said that despite extensive efforts to restructure the business and reduce costs, the plant has continued to prove loss-making.
"After lengthy thought and consideration and exploration of all avenues, including a 30-day consultation period with staff, it has become evident that a viable rescue plan is not achievable," the firm warned.
The closure is understood to be unrelated to the fact a UK subsidiary of DFF, Oak Farm Foods, was drawn into the horse-meat controversy last February.
Oak Farm Foods produced the cottage pies that were withdrawn from 47 British school kitchens by Lancashire County Council after sampling showed some tested positive for horse DNA. Tipperary workers declined to comment on the closure of the operation, though one admitted that staff knew the plant was facing an uncertain future for some time.
Over the past three years DFF had reduced the workforce from almost 150 down to 104.
Fethard businessman Larry Kenny said the numbers of jobs lost equated to a tenth of the town's population.
"The closure is going to have a huge knock-on effect for business in the town, which has been badly hit over the last few months," he said.
Junior agriculture minister and local TD Tom Hayes said he was "very disappointed" by the closure. He has sought an urgent meeting with DFF/QK managing director Peter Queally about the matter.
"My initial thoughts are with the families of the staff of those concerned at this difficult time. I will be meeting with the staff and management in the coming days to discuss this announcement and the future plans for the plant," Mr Hayes said.
"Unfortunately, this decision follows five years of tough trading conditions for DFF.
"The demand for ready meals, especially in the UK market, has reduced considerably since the horse-meat controversy and considering that 80pc of all output from the Fethard plant is exported, the continuing weakness of sterling has also compounded matters," he added.