Waterford Crystal’s facility at Kilbarry will cease to be a major manufacturing base for the company in the new year and, in future, the bulk of its production will be outsourced to companies throughout the continent of Europe.

The Waterford Wedgwood Group Financial officer, Anthony Jones, told shop stewards yesterday (Tuesday) that, through necessity because of market conditions, the company immediately required 200 redundancies to complete the tranche of 500 sought in November and he also stated that the company required a further 280 redundancies as soon as possible.

Many of the current executive directors of Waterford Crystal will leave the company over a three-month time-span between now and January.

The Munster Express understands that senior management figures, led by chief executive officer John Foley, will address the workforce at the Kilbarry plant on Thursday morning. We could garner no information on what redundancy terms will be offered to the workers.

A major investment is to be made in upgrading the Tourist Trail where about 70 employees will be left in manufacturing with the remaining 55-plus staff attached to sales. Part of the upgrade will be the installation of a new tank furnace that will be much smaller than the one currently in operation.

The situation regarding office staff is unclear as Waterford Wedgwood is currently consolidating its group back office facilities and Waterford management is battling to have those jobs based in Kilbarry.

The new share offer, which hoped to raise €101.7m, closed on Friday last having realised €79.6m of which €60m came from Chairman Sir Anthony O’Reilly and his brother-in-law and fellow director, Peter Goulandris. The investment group, Lazard, put up €15m while a total of €4.6m came from private investors. Talks are ongoing with other investors who may be interested in taking up the remaining placing of €22.1m.

Final nail

The latest move is the final nail in the coffin of a once thriving industry that was founded 60 years ago. It became the prize jewel of Irish manufacturing providing some of the best paid jobs in the country and, 20 years ago, over 3,000 people were employed in Waterford alone.

Statements last month from Mr Jones, in connection with the new equity issue, contained pointed clues to the company’s intentions but few people suspected just how hard the guillotine was about to drop.

“We are in the process of building a new Waterford Wedgwood with the support of both our shareholders and our lenders”, declared Mr Jones. “The three-year cost reduction programme will go further than any plan before it, with proposals to streamline all areas of the business. The plan will remove complexity from the business, targeting substantial annualised cost savings as well as a significant reduction in monies tied up in working capital”, he added.

Proved correct

Two years ago, The Munster Express revealed that Waterford Wedgwood was drawing up contingency plans to make 300 to 500 people redundant. Though hotly denied at the time, unfortunately, our story was borne out to be correct. It contained a prediction from sources who said it was likely that, eventually, all that would be left would be a tourist trail. We ran a sub-headline that asked the awful question, ‘Is this the beginning of the end?’.

In May, 2004, this newspaper reported that the future of Waterford Crystal’s Dungarvan plant was in jeopardy as there were realistic fears that the company would shut down the facility with a loss of some 400 jobs. Again, we were severely criticised and it was a very difficult time for reporting staff who were harangued from several quarters. Sadly, our story proved to be correct.