wexford fishermen have denounced Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) for the 'shocking and sudden' decision to suspend production at vital ice plants at three of Ireland's biggest fishing ports, including the ultra-modern plant at Kilmore Quay.
Interim BIM CEO Michael Keating said production was suspended due to health and safety concerns at the plants in Howth, Kilmore Quay and Dunmore East.
However, James O'Flaherty, of O'Flaherty Brothers trawler fleet at Kilmore Quay, said he believed the suspension of operations at the plants was a smokescreen and that BIM 'had no interest in continuing to operate them'.
'The plant at Kilmore Quay is ultra modern and fully automated. What they have done is an absolute mess. They closed it without any notice, they shut it at a whim, citing health and safety concerns, but they have not said if and when they plan to re-open it and no one has been told what these health and safety concerns are,' said Mr O'Flaherty.
Mr Keatinge said there where specific issues over men working alone at the plants and an expert will visit each plant in the coming days, after which the board will meet to try and resolve the issue.
He claimed there was enough ice in the plants to keep them working and ice was also available from other plants, suggesting that boats from Kilmore Quay could get ice at Dunmore, however, Mr O'Flaherty pointed out that this plant too was shut down.
Mr Keating said BIM were faced with a situation where sales had dropped significantly over the last number of years, as well as staff numbers.
'Ultimately we have to put the health and safety of our staff operating the plants at the forefront,' he said, '(however) we are dealing with a situation where we dropped more than 80% of our sales in the last ten years and we are working to keep the whole thing working.'
Mr O'Flaherty said the plant operator at Kilmore Quay knows of no fault there and been told to lock the door.
'There are a lot of small boats and trawlers that depend on that ice plant. Most trawlers at Kilmore have their own ice plants, but two are totally dependent along with some smaller operators.'
'We can make up the shortfall for those which need a small amount of ice, but for some boats we don't know what the future is,' said Mr O'Flaherty.
'What BIM has done is to show a complete lack of priority and respect for the industry. If some work is required at the plant you can plan for it, but to ndi this in the middle of the summer holidays means that there are no contractors available,' he said.
Wexford deputy Paul Kehoe called on the board to be honest and upfront with fishermen over the closure of ice plants.
In a statement released following the 'suspension' BIM said many of its ice plants are are old buildings dating from the late 1970s.
As a result, this can pose challenges with regard to modern health and safety standards.. one issue identified as a risk in the audit relates to personnel shortages with some staff working on their own. 'BIM fully understands the importance of the Ice Plants to the fishing industry and is doing everything in its power to resolve the issues and reopen the plants as soon as possible.'