Thursday 19 September 2019

Arklow plant punished for other plant's inefficiencies

For the second time in little over two decades 'The Fert' in Arklow has been punished for the sins of the Marino Point plant in Cork.

This time the punishment has proved fatal with the IFI company, including the Arklow factory, being closed completely because of the financial difficulties in Southern capital's ammonia producing facility.

Rising gas prices have resulted in Marino Point being no longer able to produce ammonia as competitively as it cab be purchased on world markets.

Junior shareholder in the company, ICI, which has been seeking for years to rid itself of the fertiliser company, finally got Tanaiste Mary Harney - the Government holds a 51 percent stake - to agree that they were no longer prepared to financially bail out the fertiliser company.

Ms. Harney, who is the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, demanded that the company come up with a viable business plan for the fertiliser producer and, when the powers that be decided that was not possible, the Board of the company bowed to the inevitable and decided on Tuesday to appoint a liquidator.

Back in 1980 the Marino Point plant proved to be a 'costly' millstone around Arklow's neck because of the massive cost over-runs in building the Cork based ammonia producing facility.

Before that, however, the Government, then the sole owner of NET as it was then known before the merger with ICI, were happy enough to bankroll the periodic small trading losses being totted up by the Arklow factory, considering it a small price to pay for the 1,200 jobs it created in the 1960s and particularly the 1970s as Ireland embarked on the Sean Lemass inspired industrialisation drive.

With 1,200 jobs, not to mention the employment given to service industries and hauliers, NET was Arklow's major employer in those heady days, when the town's unemployment measured a minuscule one percent or under.

NET was the market leader in terms of paying and looking after its workers. In the 1970s, pubs in Arklow found it extremely difficult to get staff; everyone wanted to work in 'The Fert'.

By 1980, however, things began to change. Marino Point in Cork had just cost £140 million to build, over three times the original estimate of £38 million. In town as the guest speaker at the Chamber of Commerce's annual dinner, Minister Des O'Malley visited 'The Fert' enroute and there he thumped the proverbial table and demanded that bosses take action to deal with the crippling debt problem incurred as a result Marino Point.

The Arklow factory was the one to pay the price...and a huge one at that. The Sulphuric Acid Plant, the small ammonia plant at Arklow and Wallboard - making plaster board from a gypsum by-product - were sacrificed, all amputated in the name of making economies.

On the altar of competitiveness and efficiency, IFI in Arklow was to see its workforce decimated, slimmed down from over 1,200 at its height to under 200 to-day.

For years IFI was under fire from environmentalists over the pollution being spewed into the air and the river from its production plants.

However it's a bitter irony that just after the Arklow factory spending millions and millions of euro on becoming cost efficient and dealing with the pollution problems by replacing old plant with modern environmentally friendly fertiliser production facilities, the the key is about to be turned in the lock for the last time.

Like The Pottery before it, The Fert has been an integral part of Arklow's life and existence over the last four decades and will be sorely missed.