Thursday 15 November 2018

End of an era as Mallow sugar plant shuts down

Aideen Sheehan

THE closure of Ireland's last remaining sugar factory yesterday was marked by the official call to arms over who gets what from the compensation kitty.

As Mallow closed its gates for the last time the Department of Agriculture put out an open call for submissions on the EU funds available for winding up the sugar industry in Ireland.

The move will intensify the storm that is already brewing over the ?145m available from the EU to cover the economic, social and environmental costs of restructuring the industry.

The Irish Farmers Association (IFA) has called for the entire amount to be allocated to beet growers, but Greencore is equally determined to get their hands on the maximum share and has indicated they may go to court to get it.

The IFA also announced they had appointed a top legal team along with financial consultants and property valuers to back up their claims.

Under EU law, farmers are entitled to a minimum of 10pc of the restructuring funds, but Agriculture Minister Mary Coughlan has the final say on whether they will get more in a delicate decision which must be reached by the end of September.

Indecon Consultants have been appointed to provide expert advice to the minister - and backing against any legal challenge - and interested parties have been given until June 2 to have their say.

Ms Coughlan rapped Greencore on the knuckles yesterday over reports from the unions that Greencore were not honouring a Labour Court recommendation on redundancy payments to Mallow workers.

In a joint statement with Enterprise Minister Micheal Martin, she said it was "extraordinary that Greencore seems to be stalling on the implementation of the Labour Court recommendation".

Beet farmers will also get additional payments worth ?123m over the next seven years to compensate for the EU slashing high sugar price subsidies which made it the most profitable crop for many years.

A diversification fund of ?44m will also be paid out and Ms Coughlan has indicated she expects all of this will go to farmers to help them diversify into other areas, with a decision due by December.

Ms Coughlan said the closure of Mallow Sugar Factory was obviously "very emotive for farmers and for employees at the plant".

However, she was accused of shedding crocodile tears which were "an insult to the people of Mallow" by local Labour TD Joe Sherlock.

Not only had Ms Coughlan negotiated the end of the sugar production in Ireland, the Government had also washed its hands of finding a replacement such as bioethanol.

The Green Party slammed the Government's inexplicable failure to support the conversion of Carlow and Mallow sugar plants.

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