17 September 2008

No more Cappoquin Chickens

Another serious blow has been dealt to the local economy in Co. Waterford.
The owners and management of
Cappoquin Chickens, a well-known poultry producer in the rural western part of the county, has confirmed that the company, which employed up to 250 people at certain times of the year, will close with the loss of all full-time and seasonal jobs.

The winding down process has already begun and will take about six weeks to complete. Talks to save the company, including with a potential buyer from England, broke down on Monday and management say they have been "left with no option but to close".

For nearly 50 years Cappoquin Chickens has been a household name in Ireland, especially in the south and south-west of the country. Privately owned and operated by several generations of the O'Connor family from the town of Cappoquin in the west of Co. Waterford (best known as the home of the Cistercian Abbey of Mount Mellery), the company saw a steady growth since the 1960s. But more recently Cappoquin Chickens had been in financial difficulties for a number of years. The company revealed during the summer that it had accumulated debts of at least € 7 million.

I am no agricultural expert and know nothing about the production of poultry, but it seems a bit strange that the company's difficulties coincide with the 'Celtic Tiger', the massive and widely unexpected economical boom that brought nearly half a million immigrants to Ireland. One would think that such an enormous increase in the population of the country would also create more demand for food, including chicken, which are by now (after the scares of the BSE crisis) probably the most popular form of meat consumed in Ireland.

So why has Cappoquin Chickens to close, despite an enlarged market? I don't know, and I would not feel competent to speculate, as I know neither the internal situation of the company, nor the quality and competence of its managers.

Local people blame the global food crisis, which has dramatically increased the price of grain. But that is not entirely logical, as the price for all kinds of food - including chicken - has risen here in the past two years overproportionally. So when the price of grain, that is fed to the chicken, goes up, the price of the chicken rises as well. And there is no shortage of chicken in Irish shops. The canandrum remains why other producers can cope with the situation, while the O'Connor family in Cappoquin can not...

The Waterford branch of the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) held a demonstration (see photo left) some time ago, in order to highlight the expected job losses in the area and in the faint hope that someone - perhaps a local politician - might actually do something before it was too late. Today the organisation is in shock, and in a statement it calls the closure of Cappoquin Chickens "another devastating blow for the Irish poultry industry".

Between 40 and 50 local egg suppliers and chicken producers, who were suppliers of Cappoquin Chickens and dependent on the company, are also deeply affected by the closure. One local producer, who has seven chicken houses with 180,000 birds, describes his future as "very bleak" without Cappoquin Chickens. "Well, chickens is all I know," he told a reporter.

Again, I feel reluctant to comment in detail, as I have no experience in the poultry business. But on a more general note I have to say that such a view is rather narrow. Millions of people around the world - and thousands in Ireland - have lost their jobs in many different industries. Quite a lot of them have no chance to stay in their line of business, trade and expertise. So they have to find something else to do, some other way to earn a living. And there are always possibilities, as new doors open the moment another door closes. All it needs is common sense, flexibility and the will and ability to learn and adapt.

Some help from the government would certainly be welcome, though I doubt that it will be a lot in the current economic recession, especially as the Minister for Finance is trying to save as much money as possible everywhere.

Perhaps it might have been wiser to invest some money in the area while the going was good and there was plenty of cash in the Treasury. But that chance has been missed, as so many others.
It is worth mentioning that the area had with Ollie Wilkinson (Fianna Fáil) a local TD (member of parliament) until the 2007 election, when he lost his seat. Being a Cappoquin man himself, and a member of the main government party, Ollie might have been able to pull a few strings in favour of his town and the local poultry industry, if he were still in Dáil Éireann. But since he was hardly ever heard of during the five years he was a TD, voters elected someone else in his place. And this TD is a city man with not much concern for chicken production.

As much as the loss of another 250 jobs in the South-East of Ireland is a concern for everyone, including myself, there is another aspect to the event. Being a vegetarian and active member of the ISPCA (Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), I feel rather relieved that we will now have millions of battery chicken less in this country. The Irish diet is still too much centred on meat - including and increasingly chicken - and the consequences are manifold, but entirely negative. Perhaps the closure of the poultry industry in Cappoquin, as shocking as it may be for the local producers, could be another step forward on the way to better, healthier and more sensible food production in this country.

The Emerald Islander

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