Fine Gael Kildare South, Martin Heydon has highlighted the potential of a return to sugar beet production in Ireland. Speaking at the Fine Gael Ard Fheis at the RDS on Saturday, he called on the Government to support the ongoing efforts to re-establish the industry.

Deputy Heydon explained how Ireland exited the production of sugar beet in 2006 following a decision by the then Government which was later found by the EU Court of Auditors to be flawed and based on out of date information.

“As an island nation, it was a mistake that has left our expanding food and drink companies paying a hefty price per tonne to import sugar and more importantly leads to difficulties for them in securing their supply of critical ingredients.

“The successful negotiation of the Common Agricultural Policy by Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, secured the hard fought for abolition of sugar beet quotas by 2017. This now paves the way for Ireland to re-commence sugar production and re-enter the markets.

He continued: “I want to see this Government support the ongoing efforts to re-establish this valuable industry. While the business model will need to stand on its own merits to be successful, there is much structural and technical support that can be provided by the departments of Enterprise and Agriculture as well as Enterprise Ireland. I am calling on the Government today to provide those supports.

“As a Government focused on job creation, we rightly support the smart economy and the roles of multinationals in the economy. But I believe strongly that we need to do all we can for indigenous Irish industry. There is no need to re-invent the wheel. We need to get back to basics and concentrate on what we are good at.

“Sugar production is one such area; we have the climate, the right soil type, the machinery manufacturers and critically the expertise of growers. Our expanding food and drink companies need it to sustain their development,” the Deputy added.

In recent months, the Department of Agriculture has met with with two separate groups who had conducted sugar industry feasibility studies in 2011, into the possibility of establishing a new sugar/bioethanol facility in the country.

The Department of Agriculture noted figures published by the interested groups who are investigating the possibility of building a new facility, that the overall capital cost costs involved could range from €250m to €400m, depending on what type of facility will be constructed.

Speaking at the time, Minister Coveney said: “I clearly stated at both meetings and on many occasions since both in the Dáil and elsewhere, that any venture to develop a combined sugar/bioethanol production facility would have to be a viable commercial proposition, and supported by a business case which is sufficiently robust to attract the funding from investors for the very substantial capital investment required.”

In addition, Beet Ireland launched its first public fundraise for €6m at the National Ploughing Championships in Co Laois last year.

The fundraise is the next step on the road to developing a new sugar and bioethanol industry for Ireland, it said. “2017 is now the target date for processing sugar beet following the finalisation of the EU CAP Agreement last July and this policy change has enabled the business planning for the project to continue within a clear timeframe.”

Beet Ireland has been working with Cantor Fitzgerald to plan the financing of this major strategic infrastructural project for Ireland, which it says will cost in the order of €400m.