Ian Paul was the last Waterford Crystal employee to leave the Visitor Centre at Kilbarry on Sunday as the two-month workers’ sit-in drew to a close.
Sitting in his Hillview home on Tuesday, Ian told The Munster Express of the personal devastation he felt as the centre’s doors were locked behind him on Sunday.
“It tore me asunder,” he said, visibly drained by the events of recent months. “I was actually crying coming out of there.”
What happened on Sunday evening must have felt like a death for a man that had given almost 43 years of service to ‘The Glass’.
“It’s worse than that,” he replied, sitting feet from several beautifully cut pieces of Waterford Crystal. “Worse than a death. It really is.”
He added: “The last seven and a half weeks have been like a rollercoaster, as you can imagine, spending 10, 11 hours a day down in the factory – it just took the focus away from everything else that was happening, really.
“You weren’t sleeping, you weren’t eating. I think I’ve had about three good meals in the last seven, eight weeks. Everything else has just been sandwiches here, sandwiches there.
“Sunday, as I said, was heartbreaking coming out of there, after the decision that was taken, then having to go in, take down all the posters, signs, everything like that.”
The following morning, Ian and several of his colleagues returned to the visitor centre to remove the stacks of signs, slogans and posters that workers had erected in Kilbarry.
“We more or less left the place exactly the same as what it was when we took it over in the very beginning, which was something we felt very proud about,” he said.
“It says a lot about the character of the people in the seven to eight weeks that we were there that there wasn’t a single thing touched, not a single thing taken.
“That says a hell of a lot about the people that were working in Waterford Crystal. I mean they had it all around them, they could have gone into the gallery at any stage, but none of it was touched, which says it all.”
Sunday’s vote to accept the deal negotiated by Unite, KPS and receiver David Carson was, Ian opined “like a gun to the head” for workers.
“The meeting went on for nearly four hours. It was an absolute marathon. Personally I felt if a vote had been taken within the first hour or two that the vote would have been totally different. I think we’d still be there at the moment. People were just pissed off by the time the vote was called.”
Numbers at the sit-in had dwindled considerably over the past few weeks at Kilbarry, which suggested disenchantment had set in among many workers.
“Especially at the weekends,” added Ian, who has been interviewed by RTE, Al Jazeera, ZDF (Germany) and Canadian TV.
“Very poor, I’m talking five or six people. I couldn’t understand why people couldn’t give the commitment to support the action.”
Ian added: “We’re talking about everybody’s future here. That’s what we were fighting for. And it broke my heart a bit to think that people didn’t feel that that wasn’t important enough to give a commitment to the sit-in. That was very disappointing.”
Hope of “something concrete on the table” from a locally-based consortium of business figures within the next six to eight weeks does provide some optimism. But Ian Paul felt that more may have been gained by maintaining the sit-in.
“My personal feeling is that we could have got a lot more by sticking with it,” he said. “I was hoping that if we continued the sit-in, KPS might have pulled out and that maybe Waterford Crystal would have been put into liquidation.
“And if that was the case, then maybe the Government would finally come on board, take it by the scruff of the neck and nationalise it. I still can’t understand why they haven’t done that. I don’t know why they haven’t come on board.”
Had there been any official communication from Government Buildings? “None whatsoever,” came the quick response.
“We had Martin Cullen in with us the once, four or five days after the sit-in. “If you’re a TD and something like this happens to such an iconic company in your own constituency, the first thing you’d do would be to come down straight away, I would have thought.
“The fact that it took him four or five days to even make an appearance tells its own story, really.”
Ian Paul added: “I was absolutely savage with the fact that Brian Cowen was able to present Barack Obama with shamrock in a huge Waterford Crystal prestige centrepiece, such a symbolic piece. Yet here he is, standing back, away from the actual closure of Waterford Crystal itself.
“What’s he going to do next year? Present Obama with a piece of Waterford Crystal produced in Slovenia or Slovakia? I can’t see that happening somehow as I don’t think it’ll go down too well.
“I just can’t comprehend where the Government are coming from on this and why they’re standing back the way they have, especially when the Crystal making end of the division remained profitable, 180 million dollars in the US alone last year. I just can’t understand it.”
So what, in Ian Paul’s view appears the most likely, rather than the most preferable outcome to this sorry tale at this juncture?
“Well the one that I would have like to have seen would have been the Government coming on board and maybe taking it onwards from there,” he said.
“The likely scenario now is that the tank furnace that we have is going to close. It’s being prepared already to close and that will actually get underway next Thursday.
“The temperatures are being brought up at the moment and there are a lot of health and safety issues that have to be put in place before they actually start draining it off.
“That is going to happen and that will be pretty sad for people that are still working there at the moment because the tank furnace is such an iconic part of Waterford Crystal.
“People have to understand that Waterford Crystal is gone, it’s finished, end of story. But you have to look at the next phase as to what might happen. And what might happen is that manufacturing, I think, may start again in Waterford, even in Kilbarry, initially.
“You have this high product level of trophies and centrepieces for all these sponsored events throughout the world that we need to produce things for and this could start within the next couple of months or so.
“That’s only going to employ a small number of people initially but I honestly feel that that can grow and grow in the next couple of years. I have no doubt that the market is still there for Waterford Crystal and that it can become very big again.
“A lot of people may say we got very big, that we got too big, that we should have stayed as a more family-set enterprise… It’s hard to believe when there was so much money made around the Millennium, 2001, when we couldn’t produce enough glass at that stage, that just eight years down the line, the factory is closed. And I find that unbelievable.”