200 jobs lost at a manufacturing plant in Tralee is just the latest hit to the town in an unprecedented year
Paul Donovan isn’t thinking beyond March 31.
Until then, he has a job at the BorgWarner plant in Tralee, Co Kerry.
He’s worked there for ten years, first as a general operative and now a health and safety officer.
Production was almost completely focused on a contract to produce electric air heaters for Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors.
Like his colleagues, he knew the cutting-edge car maker was looking at the possibility of developing an alternative version in-house.
It still came as a huge shock when they lost the contract. Production will begin winding down next month.
The Michigan-headquartered multinational’s factory in the Monavalley Industrial Estate will close completely at the end of March. Over 200 people may end up on the Live Register.
“I haven’t a plan at the moment, no,” he says.
“I’m not looking past 31st of March next year because I’m still bound to the company. I’ll stay committed to BorgWarner ‘til the day I go. They’ve given me a good ten years.”
Paul found out his job was gone on the second day of his holidays last July while walking into Fota Park. He couldn’t ignore a text from one of his brother-in-laws who works at the plant that there was “big news about BorgWarner”. Some days you don’t forget, he says.
It’s difficult to up sticks and move to Cork or Limerick when your family is settled. He has four children ranging in age from five to 19.
As he speaks, he’s just said goodbye to a few colleagues who are leaving earlier.
“It was a great place to work,” he says.
“I grew up just 500m from BorgWarner. I was there for the opening in 1986 and will be there for the closing.”
He says workers are optimistic but talk of potential job opportunities has not materialised into anything concrete.
He describes Kerry as pretty bleak and Tralee as pretty vacant. People might stay a night in the town but tend to pass through. Even pre-Covid, it had a lot of empty industrial units and can’t compare with Killarney’s buzzing tourism.
“We’re southeast of Kerry and there isn’t much going on down here you know,” he says.
“Where I work is a big plant. Hopefully someone might bring something back in there. It’s a lot to ask for, but it’s ready and it would be great to bring back some people, some jobs.”
The BorgWarner job losses have hit the town hard following the closure of Debenhams and Mothercare stores. Covid has compounded the dire economic impact. Employers who were ticking along nicely are questioning their ability to survive. The Rose of Tralee was cancelled.
Just off the town square, the manager of Yummy Café Market, Emer Tobin, says staff thought they were getting a little break when the Government ordered the first lockdown. Like most of the rest of the country, no one anticipated how long it would go on for.
Her mind was at first occupied with finding a home for a glut of stock she bought for St Patrick’s Day. She ended up giving most of it to elderly customers, staff and soup kitchens.
Suddenly, she found herself without funds, helping staff apply for the Pandemic Unemployment Payment. She began to panic about meeting overheads.
A “wobble” during the second lockdown made her wonder if she should look at another career. The financial cushion built up during the summer was slowly dwindling away. One of her key workers nabbed a more secure job in another sector.
“Just closing up shop wouldn’t be an option, my whole family relies on it,” she says.
A two-minute walk from the café, Johnny McElligott was putting the finishing touches to a new beer garden at his Séan Óg’s bar when the virus changed everything.
“The full-time bar staff have taken a huge drop in income to €350 a week,” he says. “If you take a couple, they’d be down about €1,200 a month and trying to cover mortgages.”
He transformed the bar after returning from work on the construction sites of Midtown Manhattan over 25 years ago. The Sign above the door reads ‘Drinking Consultants’.
He is a consultant of many sorts – there are ten or 12 regulars he knows so well, he could have their order ready before they got to the door. Many are pensioners living on old farms.
“I’m in touch with a lot of them,” he says. “Most just want a chat. Everybody’s going to put the good side out.”