The West Waterford farming community is still reeling from the news that at least 250 jobs will be lost by the end of the month, if a buyer for Cappoquin Chickens cannot be found.
And optimism of such a buyer emerging is particularly low since no deal could be secured to date during a 3-month High Court examinership of the company, which employs 150 full time workers and 100 seasonal workers and provides a livelihood for dozens of growers, breeders and suppliers.
As news emerged on Monday that the poultry provider had gone into liquidation, Opposition spokespeople said the knock-on effect would decimate the community, resulting in losses of up to €20m per annum.
Farmers who supply the factory with chickens held a rally outside the plant on Monday night in a bid to garner support for the processing industry. They’re blaming the devastating news at Cappoquin on supermarkets who offer discounted, imported chicken to consumers at ever-cheaper prices.
Dismayed workers at the plant have pledged to co-operate with the official receiver appointed following the 100-day period of examinership, so that the firm can be sold as a going concern. Speaking after a meeting between SIPTU officials and staff at the plant on Monday morning, union representative Davy Lane said they were hopeful somebody would buy the plant and save the company. “It would be devastating for the area for anything to happen to the company,” he commented.
The receiver went to the High Court on Tuesday to seek power of attorney to keep Cappoquin Chickens in business and to attempt to sell it as a going concern. One British-based company is understood to be interested in the firm but will not be in a position to confirm a purchase until late September or early October.
The High Court agreed to an interim examinership last June, after being told the company had an ongoing deficit of €806,000. It also has a winding-up deficit of €7m. Management at the plant, which has traded under the ownership of the O’Connor family for almost five decades, have blamed a number of factors on the development, including imported poultry from outside the EU, the rising price of feed and the negative impact caused by the avian flu epidemic for the factory crisis. Company director John O’Connor said that, as the situation was now in the hands of the liquidator, his family’s involvement “is no longer”, although they were available to help in any way they could. “From my family’s point of view, it’s a tremendous disappointment, and for everyone who works here and everyone who has worked here and the farmers, growers, breeders and suppliers.”
Monday’s rally was organised by the IFA and addressed by the body’s president Padraig Walshe, who said supermarkets selling discounted chicken had devalued a quality-assured product in the minds of consumers. “The supermarkets are creating an image that you can get more food for less money every day, and that’s a fallacy. Consumers don’t expect to get their cars for less money next year than they did this year. You can’t continue to get more for less every day.”
Chairman of the IFA Poultry Committee Ned Morrissey added that the livelihoods of growers depended on an injection of capital to secure the future of the plant in Cappoquin. “Producers who are owed €1m are waiting to hear what plans the liquidator has for the company”, he said.
Opposition spokesmen have expressed overwhelming alarm at the shocking news in Cappoquin. Labour TD Brian O’Shea noted how the local impact of the closure could not be overstated while Fine Gael’s John Deasy said the Government had promised the company substantial grants for plant modernisation that never materialised. “If there is any opportunity to avert this situation and assist the company in finding an investor the government should act immediately”, he added.
Local Sinn Fein Councillor David Cullinane noted a ‘short window of opportunity within which the company can be saved’. “Every effort must be made by all stakeholders to explore all avenues to secure the company’s future viability”, he added. Fine Gael Senator Paudie Coffey said his thoughts were with the employees, who now face an uncertain future in the midst of a serious recession.