Kieran Foley

There has been a broad welcome locally to the news that a €140m cheese factory proposed for South Kilkenny can go ahead.

As well as supporting the incomes of 4,500 farm families, the new Enterprise Ireland supported cheese production facility at Belview is expected to create 85 full time jobs and support 400 construction jobs in the South-East.

Last week, the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal against the development by An Taisce and upheld the High Court’s decision in favour of An Bord Pleanála’s granting of permission for the factory.

Planning was first sought by Glanbia and Dutch company Royal A-ware in 2019. It was granted by Kilkenny County Council but appealed by An Taisce to An Bord Pleanála and then to the High Court where the decision to grant permission was upheld.

The appeal to the Supreme Court centred on whether the factory would lead to increased milk production in the State and thereby to increased agricultural emissions.

Glanbia Ireland Chief Executive Jim Bergin said: “We are really pleased that we can now bring this project to fruition in conjunction with our partners, Royal A-ware. This project is in line with Government policy and is critical to our market diversification post Brexit. Getting the plant into production as soon as possible is now of huge importance to our 4,500 farm families supplying their milk to Glanbia Ireland every day. This significant project was due to commence production in March of this year and the two-year delay is causing very negative impacts on our farm families. Our team is now focused on getting the plant into production for the 2024 season.”

He added: “We are extremely grateful to our joint venture partners, Royal A-ware, for their patience over the past two years as this project successfully progressed through the planning and legal processes.”

Glanbia Ireland Chairman John Murphy said: “We are hopeful that the ruling brings an end to uncertainty for farm families and to the significant extra costs, including income foregone by farmers, construction cost inflation, legal costs and business disruption that the delay has caused.”

He continued: “Glanbia as an organisation is embedded in the rural community and our ethos has always been that dialogue with stakeholders is the best approach to addressing both opportunities and challenges. We are fully committed to sustainability and have launched our own ambitious Living Proof sustainability strategy, including committing to the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi). We are actively engaged in the appropriate forums on Government policies to secure a sustainable future for the agricultural sector, through Ag Climatise and the Food Vision 2030 Strategy.”

Meanwhile, IFA President Tim Cullinan said the decision of the Supreme Court to give the green light to the Glanbia cheese plant should be respected by everybody.

IFA President Tim Cullinan: “Every appeal avenue has now been exhausted”.

“Every appeal avenue has now been exhausted,” said Mr Cullinan. “It’s clear that our planning system needs significant reform to avoid it being used by some to delay necessary developments.”

Mr Cullinan pointed out that the Glanbia project was designed as a response to the challenges arising from Brexit and the need for our dairy sector to diversify its products and seek new markets.

“Given how exposed the Irish dairy sector is to the challenges of Brexit, it would be very damaging to obstruct a valid initiative that is designed to safeguard the livelihoods of farm families and the rural economy in the South-East,” he said.

Waterford Independent TD Matt Shanahan said An Taisce “needlessly delayed this commercial development while their numerous failed legal challenges have added significant cost and delay to this proposed facility”.

He added: “Farmers are more than willing and able to engage on climate mitigation activity and are already innovating in terms of climate reduction.  There was never a need to threaten future South-East farm livelihoods to make a political argument but that is what An Taisce did. In doing so, they went far beyond their remit which the Supreme Court has recognised.”

Local Fine Gael representatives also welcomed the cheese factory decision and expressed hope that the matter is now resolved.

In a statement, Fine Gael’s South-East representatives, Deputies John Paul Phelan, Charlie Flanagan, Paul Kehoe, David Stanton and Senators John Cummins and Garret Ahearn, said: “We welcome this decision and hope that it is the end of the road for objections. The long delay is regrettable and was wholly avoidable. It clearly demonstrates there is an element within An Taisce that are anti-business and anti-rural. We respectfully hope that the long wait is now over for the thousands of farm families in this region who invested in their herds and world-class housing and milking facilities to meet demand for their quality produce and whose livelihoods have been put in jeopardy over the past number of years.”

The statement added: “Unfortunately building cost inflation has spiralled since this project was first proposed and we acknowledge the frustration and the anxiety created for Glanbia Ireland and its Dutch partner in this project. It is imperative that no further roadblocks are thrown in the way of this project and that construction can commence without delay.”

Also welcoming the news, Fianna Fáil MEP Billy Kelleher said: “This is a very important decision for the agri-business sector in the South-East. The repeated attempts by An Taisce to block and derail this really important economic investment in the South-East are finally over. From the outset I have said that the judicial and indeed planning system should not be used to decide national government policy. Now that this final hurdle has been overcome, I would urge Glanbia to move on with their plans as quickly as possible. Thousands of dairy farmers across Munster and South Leinster are ready and waiting to provide top quality Irish milk and to support the creation of a significant number of well-paying local jobs.”

Fianna Fáil MEP Billy Kelleher: “This is a very important decision for the agri-business sector in the South-East”.