The local news agenda has been all about ‘The Glass’ over the past couple of days, and justly so.
At the very least, most readers know a fella who knows a fella working for Waterford Crystal, so as stories go, it doesn’t come much bigger than this for Suirside-based publications. If only there was better news to report at the time of writing.
It is, alas, unfortunate that one of the few ways Waterford seems to be able to propel itself into the national news agenda these days is through job losses or the threat thereof.
The Cappoquin Chickens situation got Dublin newsrooms in a flap before Christmas and it’s unfortunate that the company finds itself back in the headlines for altogether more tragic reasons this week.
Meanwhile, Waterford Wedgwood’s modern tale has been one exclusively devoted to woe, losses and redundancies.
Casting my eye across the newswires over the past couple of days, it’s difficult not to overstate the size of a story that’s as much an international one as it is a local concern.
“Waterford Wedgwood, the Irish china and glassware maker, has the distinction of becoming the first European group to go bust in 2009,” writes the Wall Street Journal yesterday (Tuesday). Ominosuly, the writer adds: “It won’t be the last.”
And while Sir Anthony O’Reilly may not be the most popular person on a Kilbarry factory floor right now, these must be dark days for the now resigned company director.
Both he and brother-in-law Peter Goulandris, along with the Lazard investment bank are believed to have pumped a staggering €400million into the business in the past five years alone.
By most non-Manchester City owner’s standards, that’s a staggering amount of money committed with the aim of keeping afloat an enterprise which is famed the world over.
Despite that gargantuan investment, the company’s losses stood at just under €449million in October. Without that investment, the firm would surely have gone the way of the dodo a few years ago.
Even O’Reilly’s experience, hewn from decades of multi-billion Euro business dealings couldn’t keep the good ship Waterford Wedgwood from running aground.
I don’t envy David Carson’s task who, as receiver, will aim to sell the company on as a going concern.
It’s difficult to see who might take the entire business on in its current guise, though the long-touted profitability of the crystal division still provides hope for the 800 workers in the city.
In its heyday, Waterford Crystal was, literally, the sparkling centrepiece of a proud manufacturing city. Those days now seem distant, as the developing world provides multi-national companies with workforces available at a fraction of the Irish cost.
Economic success has priced us out of the sort of jobs that got the country off its knees under Sean Lemass in the 1960s. Thanks to TK Whitaker’s landmark 1958 report, the seeds of a new Ireland, a forward thinking Ireland, a progressive, ambitious Ireland, were sewn.
Is there a new Whitaker out there today? It would be nice to think so, but given the mutterings of our increasingly listless Government, blathering on about commissions, discussions yet to be held and a promise of showing leadership, it looks like we’ll be waiting.
The opposition hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory either. Enda Kenny’s failure to capitalise on the failures of the least economic savvy Government since Garret FitzGerald’s surely lessens his chances of becoming the next Taoiseach.
His finance spokesperson Richard Bruton has certainly cut an impressive figure of late, but he has been notably shy on specifics when it comes to how he’d sort out this mess.
When he goes on about saving money by reducing the number of admittedly pointless junior ministries, he’s indulging in a cosmetic exercise which amounts to nothing more than small potatoes.
Waterford Wedgwood’s problems are symptomatic of the nation’s economic plight. Yearning for a rabbit out of a hat solution to solve its ills, there’s one big problem: the hat can’t even be located right now. Good luck to David Carson in said search.