Youghal struggles with Globalisation
Towns in Cork, Waterford and south Tipperary see the migration of manufacturing jobs to Asia and struggle to cope with a changing world economy
Machine-operator Carol Duggan, 48, recalls last February when management announced the closure of the factory where she worked.
“More than half of the people had been there since the doors opened, there were girls that came straight out of school at 18 into the factory, now women in their forties,” says Carol. It was just before 2pm as she stood there with her colleagues, beside the machines she had operated for close to 13 years. They had expected the announcement.
Just 12 months earlier, the French-owned company, Elba had taken over the Avery Dennisson factory that made office supplies in Youghal for 25 years. Elba said the rising cost of production had made the plant “unfeasible”.
“We weren't fools, we knew it was coming, but we were still devastated,” says Carol Duggan.
“He told us ‘it'll be done gradually not overnight; the machines are going out on a planned scale.' If your machine was lower down on the scale, you left later.
And that's how it went; the first people went in June, then July, August and the doors shut the last day of September 2007.”
Elba's 55 employees became the latest group to join the swelling ranks of Youghal workers who had been laid off as the town's electronics and textiles operations moved to cheaper locations in Eastern Europe and China.
“It's not that they stopped making the product, it's not that the job we were doing was made redundant, we were made redundant,” says Carol Duggan, the sole-earner in her household. She used the redundancy money to pay off the mortgage on the terraced house she shares with her husband, Liam, and put her name alongside 991 others on a register in the social welfare office in Youghal.
In the past seven years almost 2,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost in the town (population: 10,000). Jobless numbers are now three times the national average.
At its peak, Youghal Carpets employed 750 people. Youghal had become synonymous with quality carpet. When the textile industry, which had flourished for three decades until the mid-seventies, declined, the town was rescued by the location there of three US firms in the 1980s.
“There were jobs in Youghal when there were no jobs anywhere,” says Shelia Coveney who worked the looms for Blackwater Cotton in early seventies. But at a cost. People were so assured of employment in one of the town's many factories that third level education was uncommon. Most opted for technical skills. A 2006 RAPID report on Youghal recorded: 26 per cent of the population have no formal or primary education; 24 per cent are early school leavers and 19 per cent have third level education.
“Artesyn, Kodak, Seafield, Avery Dennison,” – James Daly, branch secretary of the SIPTU, recites the litany of closures over the last eight years.
In the past seven years the IDA has failed to attract new investors to the vacant facilities in the town's two industrial estates to fill the breach. “This is the end for Youghal [as a manufacturing town] – I've watched the membership of this branch go from 2,000 to 500,” he says.
Now just one factory remains – the medical textiles company Tytex. But even it is under pressure from competition in the eastern markets and its 114 employees have undergone re-training and restructuring to retain the plant's viability.
More than 20 empty shops on the main street advertise that residents, forced to commute to nearby Cork, Carrigtwohill and Dungarvan for work, have taken their trade with them. As a result, the chamber of commerce estimates that up to €40 million in lost revenue has bled out of the town, along with 350 service jobs.
Many cite the absence of a local TD as an explanation for the political neglect of Youghal, as they perceive it. “They're building a train line from Cork to Midleton, there are 1,500 cars leaving Youghal every morning but they won't extend the train line down here,” he says.
A visit from Mary Harney when she was enterprise minister and later Micheál Martin did little to convince the populace they featured on any political agenda.
“Mary Harney told us to paddle our own canoe and build up cottage industry and ‘ye'll be fine'. That was her advice, now we've been left high and dry” says Daly. In January a delegation from the Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment visited Youghal and other “employment blackspots” in the Cork, Waterford, Tipperary region.
The towns featured on the delegation's itinerary all had one thing in common – their former reliance on manufacturing.
Sinn Fein TD and member of the delegation, Arthur Morgan, said he was “taken aback by how bad it was”. Morgan said the government had stood still on development in the region believing that the US biomedical company Amgen would create 1,100 jobs and give the region an economic shot in the arm. But last October Amgen announced that work on its €800 million plant in Carrigtwohill was “postponed indefinitely”. The delegation's report recommended a host of measures to rejuvenate the blackspots including improving broadband, road infrastructure and the co-ordination of government agencies. “This is a damning indictment of the government, we've known about these blackspots for years – they've been negligent of these areas,” said Morgan.
Youghal Chamber of Commerce president Michael Farrell says the IDA strategy of ‘hubbing' industry in certain towns has disadvantaged Youghal. “As a country we have become uncompetitive with high labour costs, manufacturing costs, local government charges. In Youghal it was exacerbated because a number of companies were taken over, who then streamlined production by relocating to China, for example, for cost reasons.”
“The best opportunity for some of these regional towns is to tap into the growth of Cork and provide a range of property solutions… such as office spaces” says the IDA regional manager for the south west, Ray O'Connor. “As the market changes we must adapt.”
An incubator centre is being built at an old French convent to provide office space for IT and professional services.
The council also plans to re-invent Youghal as a tourist destination in the hope that those left idle by the factory closures could be occupied in the tourism sector.
Above: The opening of the rail link from Cork in 1860 helped the town become the most popular seaside resort of the south coast. The line was closed in the mid-1970s
Timeline of closures in Youghal
Youghal Carpets in Carrigtwohill closes with the loss of 260 jobs. The firm opened in 1969 and employed more than 750 people at the height of its success.
Artesyn Technologies announces the closure of its electronics plant with the loss of 160 jobs. The company, formerly known as Power Products had begun downsizing its workforce of 1,000 in 2000. Operations are transferred to facilities in China and Hungary
Technicolor Home Entertainment which makes CD-ROMs closes its plant with the loss of 243 jobs. Technicolor had just bought the 120,000 square foot facility from the US-based Eastman Kodak. Spokesman Marc Meyer had told workers at the time, “we're not in the business of buying factories to close them”. Operations are transferred to existing facilities in Wales and Poland
Seafield Technical Textiles announces operations will cease by the end of the year making 40 people redundant. The fabrics manufacturer had closed and reopened its factory three times since it was established in Youghal in 1946. Despite receiving over half a million euro worth of orders over the last few weeks, the company said it was forced to close because of competition with low-cost economies
Couristan Carpets in Youghal will close by Christmas marking the end of carpet manufacture in Youghal, which began in 1954. Ninety-two workers in the company's two facilities will lose their jobs.
Elba plant closes: French-owned office supplies manufacturer Elba is to close its factory in Youghal by September with the loss of 55 jobs. The factory was previously owned by Avery Dennisson which had operated in the town for over 20 years.