Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Council discuss ongoing Cartons Hatchery dispute (by VERONICA CORR)

(The following is the text of a report compiled by Veronica Corr of The Northern Standard and printed in this week's edition of that paper)

Sinn Fein Cllr. Matt Carthy proposed the following notice of motion at last week’s local authority meeting:

“That Carrickmacross Town Council notes that there has yet to be a resolution to the dispute between the owners of Cartons Hatchery and former employees at the Ballybay Road plant and that our previous correspondence to the company was not responded to. We also note that this company has been the recipient of significant State grants in recent years. In light of this, that we call the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to intervene in this matter to ensure its resolution and suspend the payment of taxpayers’ money to the company pending the final resolution of this issue.”

In introducing the motion, Cllr. Carthy said that he was very disappointed that a resolution still hadn’t been reached between former hatchery workers and management.

He added that, by and large, the affected employees were local people, some of whom had given decades of service to the business.

The company had said that the terms of their original enhanced redundancy were based on the sale of the hatchery, which never came to pass, Cllr. Carthy stated. This was another scenario where people who had been let go didn’t get what they felt they were entitled to, ClIr. Carthy added.

However, he said that the difference between this situation and the Lagan Brick dispute, was that Cartons Hatchery workers had received a firm commitment from their former employer, which had been reneged upon.

The Sinn Fein representative was also disappointed that the Minister for Jobs had not intervened. The Minister for Social Protection’s only role was to ensure that statutory redundancy was paid, which it had been, he added

Cllr. Carthy also felt that, under different circumstances, a company with such high financial turnover should be being congratulated by the council - However, he added that a dark cloud was hanging over the hatchery and Cartons, as this was a nasty sore which was impacting on families.

Cllr. Carthy explained that Sinn Fein as a party were appealing to the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton, TD, not to release any more taxpayers’ money to Cartons until the issue has been resolved.

The Sinn Fein representative told the meeting that in 2010 the company had received €508,406.50 in funding from State agencies, and in excess of €2 million in taxpayers’ money over a ten year period. He described this as “an awful lot, at a time when workers were struggling.”

However, Cllr. Carthy was very happy to see that Carrickmacross Town Council was unanimous in its support of hatchery workers, as they came from all walks of life and held a spectrum of political opinions.

Therefore, he called on his colleagues to join forces to lobby Minister Bruton to intervene and stop payment of taxpayers’ money benefiting the company until a resolution has been reached.

Fianna Fail Cllr. Padraig McNally said that it was “nothing short of a disgrace” that this had been going on for four years now. He also alleged that the fault lay with Cartons regarding the sale of the Ballybay Road hatchery falling through.

Cllr. McNally also stated that he felt that the perspective purchaser of the Ballybay Road site had been genuine in his attempts to seek planning.

He also commented that plans to develop a new hatchery in Lisdoonan had never come to fruition. He said that the owner of the Lisdoonan site and the purchaser of the Ballybay Road hatchery had both been “strung along.”

Cllr. McNally also felt that the Ballybay Road hatchery had contributed indirectly to the success enjoyed by Cartons internationally. Former hatchery employees had waited four years, with no top-up redundancy. Their jobs were long gone and they hadn’t received what they felt they were entitled to, he reiterated. He felt that this was not a good precedent to set, as it might encourage other companies to follow suit.

His party colleague, Cllr. PJ O’Hanlon said that it was very sad to see people, who had given most of their working lives to the aforementioned company, treated in this manner.

The council had no power or control on the issue, but he hoped that Cartons would re-engage with their former employees, who had been left hanging.

Fine Gael’s Mark Clarke hailed it as “a disgrace that employees were getting shafted by a company that was still making money,” adding that legislation needed to be looked at.

Mayor of Carrickmacross Noel Keelan said that it was their responsibility as public representatives to highlight injustice when it occurs. He was also disappointed that the State saw fit to award the company significant grant aid, given that it had treated former hatchery workers so poorly.

Cllr. Carthy proposed the above motion and Cllr. McNally seconded. In his right to reply, Cllr. Carthy, the motion’s author, thanked members for their comments, stating that one of the difficulties former hatchery staff had encountered was getting their side of the story heard by the people of the town and county.

In conclusion, Cllr. Carthy conceded that although the company had made workers an offer since the council last debated the issue, it had fallen far short of their previous agreement. Therefore, Cllr. Carthy felt that workers had been quite right in rejecting it.

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