Retail tycoon Senator Feargal Quinn has cited the example of Waterford workers in taking a pay cut to save their jobs as an example to the rest of the Irish economy – particularly the public service.

The former Superquinn boss, who believes Finance Minister Brian Lenihan is “far too optimistic in his forecasts” for next year, has criticised the Government’s failure to cut wastage within the civil service as part of the Budget.

“Look at what happened in Cappoquin Chickens… That great company in County Waterford ran into difficulty. The new owners went to the workers and said they could not survive unless they took a reduction in pay. Almost everyone took the reduction in pay. The country was willing to accept something like that and the public service would have had to do so,” the Independent Senator says.

The west Waterford poultry factory was saved from closure a month ago when it was sold to two private investors behind Derby Poultry in the UK. After a minimum wage (€8.66/hour without overtime) offer was rejected, the new owners came up with a ‘transitional’ €9 per hour plus 125% overtime rate; 98 workers opted to remain on at the plant, with around 50 taking redundancy.

In 2005, in the face of intense competition and mounting losses, Mr Quinn and his family got out of the groceries giant he’d established out of a small Dundalk in 1960 following a €420m takeover by Select Retail Holdings. However, he’s still the company’s non-executive president.

The Cork-based Musgrave Group – owners of SuperValu and Centra – recently withdrew an offer for the now-profitable Superquinn’s operating business (ie, not including its assets), reportedly put off by the €250m valuation.