Opinion: Lessons from an era when the bottom line wasn't everything
I had occasion lately to spend a day or two in Carlow. I went there to meet people who had worked in the sugar factory and to explore the contribution it had made to the town and the region. Everyone I met was fulsome in their praise of the factory and there is no doubt its contribution to Carlow and the South East region was immense.
By all accounts it was a humane and generous place to work and there is a recognition of the huge legacy it left in terms of skills, businesses and social infrastructure.
These semi-state or publicly owned companies left huge legacies that are only now being recognised after the companies are gone or swallowed by the python of privatisation.
Indeed if you look at some of the crises currently facing the country, particularly in relation to housing and apprenticeships, companies like the Irish Sugar Company had a handle on these issues years ago.
Long before the concept of 'Corporate Social Responsibility' was conceived of Carlow Sugar Factory was practicing it. Two of its managing directors, MJ Costello and Maurice Sheehy, were firm believers in the company becoming involved in the community beyond the factory gate.
Between 1947 and 1968, the factory actively supported the development of three housing estates in Carlow. Former worker Joe McDonnell explained how it came about, "An independent committee known as the Utility Housing Committee' applied for the planning permission.
"The company provided the land, the drawings and the engineering supervision. In the earliest scheme in 1947 the prospective owners provided labour in the building of the houses," Joe explained. Grants were provided by the local authority and the national government with the remainder provided by Co Council loan
"In our estate, built in 1968, the houses cost €3,200 each," Joe said. "Of that €250 was a local government grant, €250 came in the form of a government grant and the remainder was a Co Council loan taken out over 35 years."