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Incompetent Coughlan duped on Irish sugar industry – Ó Snodaigh

11 November, 2010 - by Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD

Speaking in the Dáil this evening Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh severely criticised Tánaiste Mary Coughlan over her handling of the sugar industry when she was Minister for Agriculture.

Full text of Deputy Ó Snodaigh’s speech follows:

When the draft EU sugar proposals were outlined in 2005 Mary Coughlan was Minister for Agriculture.

In the Dáil on May 2, 2005 she blamed the decision to close Carlow on the likely consequences of the reform. But she assured us that Greencore would keep Mallow open.

Of course they decided to close it anyway, which was again blamed on the EU. The EU auditors now tell us that the closure was unnecessary and that Greencore had decided to close before the reforms were even in place and that there was no valid commercial reason for them closing.

Minister Coughlan defended the decision to close Mallow and indeed blamed the EU for the closure.

In July 2005 Minister Coughlan had completely rejected the EU reform proposals as an attack on the Irish sugar industry.

John Browne was Minister for State in her Department and on November 17 2005 he told the Seanad that “From Ireland’s perspective, the proposals are unacceptable.” The Government would defend Irish Sugar and were confident that the sector would be saved.

Greencore obviously had different ideas and were already planning to get out. What then persuaded the Minister to change her mind and support them and to argue that they be heavily compensated?

In December 2005, before the EU had formally ratified the reform agreement, Minister Coughlan justified the Carlow closure and what she foresaw as the possible total closure of our sugar industry, as a consequence of the EU measures. Did she already know what Greencore were about to close Mallow, even though we are now told that they did not need to?

Minister Coughlan also promised that in the event – which only she and Greencore obviously foresaw as inevitable – of a total closure that handsome compensation would be available. Greencore certainly benefited from that to the tune of almost €100 million. Greencore then had to be dragged into court to secure redundancy for their former workers.

The EU auditors now tell us that in fact it cost more to close the Irish sugar industry than it would have to keep it alive.

When Martin Ferris questioned Minister Coughlan on the generous hand out to the Greencore chancers it emerged that Greencore also got more in compensation than they would had they decided to go into bio fuel production. And also of course in Carlow - inspired by that genius of the property market Liam Carroll - they decided that trying to build apartments on the site was a better prospect than employing hundreds of people and giving work to thousands of farmers. And well worth destroying a generations old industry.

In reply to Martin’s question on October 24 2006 Minister Coughlan again blamed the EU for the closure of Mallow.

Does she now accept in the light of the Auditors Report that this was not an accurate claim?

And if it was not why was it that she defended the Greencore speculators decision to destroy one of our most successful native industries, hundreds of jobs and potentially hundreds of farm livelihoods?

She also waffled about the EU plan requiring restructuring of the sugar industry. Just quite what part of restructuring an industry involves selling off its plant, destroying its buildings, sacking its workers, leaving farmers with no-one to buy their beet and worse again incompetently attempting to cash in on a dying property market by planning to build apartments in Carlow?

If that constitutes industrial restructuring then heroin dealers are entitled to be recognised by the Irish Medical Council and the HSE as doctors.

Returning to Greencore’s ‘restructuring plan’ did the Minister or her officials actually go to the trouble of examining the EU proposals – and remember they were still only proposals when Greencore decided to close Mallow with her support?

Or did she just take the word of Greencore. Perhaps during a chance meeting at one of those mythical events where the likes of Carroll and the other chancers who destroyed our economy told her and her party what needed to be done in the best interests of the country?

Or was she just incompetent? Did she as the Minister ultimately responsible for one of our most successful native industries – and a formerly public one at that before it was sold off to compulsive failed gamblers – just simply get hoodwinked by Greencore?

We all make mistakes and we all get duped from time to time by cynical conmen. But if that is what happened at least she might have the courage to admit it to the hundreds of former sugar factory workers living on the dole money that no doubt this time next month she will be claiming had to be cut in order to pay for the likes of Carroll’s debts.

You really could not make it up.

Yesterday Pat Rabbitte compared the end days of this Government to the Last Days of the Roman Empire. The last days of Al Capone or Owney Madden or Lucky Luciano might be a better analogy.

There is also the question of course in regard to Greencore and Mr. Carroll’s acquisition of a large shareholding in the company. Judging by his current predicament as one of those who the rest of us have to pick up the tab for through NAMA he would not qualify as a particularly inspired investor.

And yet he decided to acquire a large chunk of Greencore just prior to the divvying up of the compensation fund and just as the former sites comprising hundreds of acres of land were then available once the plants had been closed for use as property development. It was inspired timing on the one hand but unfortunately for him, too late given the collapse of the entire edifice of property, financial and all round speculation that had kept the good fellas going for so many years.

Did the Minister at a time when one of our great industries and hundreds of jobs were about to be destroyed not pause to think whether the closure – which we now know was necessary only in the eyes of Greencore and the Minister – was worth another effort to keep the property aspidistra flying?

Was the loss of hundreds of jobs and an outlet for thousands of beet growers worth another quick killing for the Golden Circle?

Does she think that the people of Mallow and indeed Carlow when queuing for their unemployment payments can at least sleep happy knowing that their sacrifice was not in vain and that it helped stave off poverty and starvation for a selfless patriotic band of entrepreneurs?

Mind you like all failed bad gamblers the more money you give them the more they will lose and the more someone will have to step in and help them out. Instead of Gamblers Anonymous of course they have the Irish people to counsel them and pay their debts.

Will she remember the former sugar workers and the beet farmers when herself and her Cabinet colleagues have to decide over the coming weeks how much more the unemployed sugar factory workers and their families need to contribute to the bail out for the people who destroyed their jobs?

Finally, I would like to ask her if she will now admit that when she told myself and her current colleague Trevor Sargent that Greencore had rejected the use of Carlow to make bio fuels because it was not commercially viable, that they were lying to her.

It was not that sugar or biofuels or any other enterprise that might employ people was not viable. It was the fact that the people who owned Greencore were only interested in the quick kill and if that quick kill involved killing the sugar industry and hundred of livelihoods and condemning thousands to poverty then so be it.

We should not expect anything else from these people. We should and do expect something more from an elected Minister in an Irish Government who was put where she is to represent them, not a gang of speculators.

It is a fitting and sad epitaph to a bankrupt Government and a party that has destroyed what ever good name it had among the ordinary people of this state.


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