UPDATE: Junior Minister in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Tom Hayes, has expressed his disappointment with the news that Dawn Fresh Foods in Fethard is to close with the loss of 104 permanent positions.

According to a statement on his website, Minister Hayes met with Dawn Fresh Food’s managing director Peter Queely and senior management at the plant recently to discuss the immediate future for all staff concerned and the long-term future of the state-of-the-art facility in Fethard. This followed a telephone call with managing director Peter Queely on Monday morning.

“My initial thoughts are with the families of the staff of those concerned at this difficult time. I will be meeting with the staff and management in the coming days to discuss this announcement and the future plans for the plant,” he said in the statement.

“Unfortunately, this decision follows five years of tough trading conditions for Dawn Fresh Foods. Firstly, the demand for ready meals, especially in the UK market, has reduced considerably since the horsemeat controversy. Considering that 80 per cent of all output from the Fethard plant is exported, the continuing weakness of Sterling has compounded matters.

“These factors combined have negatively impacted operations in Fethard, as it has other such competitors around the country. So while it was not responsible for the horsemeat controversy, this and increased competition made trading conditions extremely tough,” he added.

The Dawn Group, who employs 5,000 people worldwide, still employ a significant amount of people in Tipperary such as those in Glenpatrick Spring.

“All energies must now be diverted to finding a replacement tenant for the plant. This is a valuable asset for County Tipperary and along with officials from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Enterprise Ireland, I will be meeting managing director Peter Queely and senior management to discuss all possibilities.”

The minister continued: “This state of the art facility was producing ten million units of ready meals per annum and I am keen to investigate, with management, all possibilities to ensure that a viable future can be secured. I will be working with my colleagues Richard Bruton and Simon Coveney from a Government perspective in this regard also.

“Finally I want to re-iterate again that my thoughts are with the families of those who will be losing their jobs and I will make sure they get the best package available when I meet with the management,” the statement concluded.

Meanwhile, Cllr Joe Brennan, who lives four miles from the production plant, said the closure was a “major shock to the town”.

“Dawn Fresh Food was a major employer in the town. There is now an air of depression in the fact that it is closing. People have worked there for a long number of years, some feel they are just too young to retire and too old to retrain. There is a lot of hurt and annoyance as a lot of families in the town are dependent on the factory. Literally we are just stunned and surprised. We are led to believe with all the media reports on exports that the food industry sector is growing, but this closure has come like a bolt out of the blue.”

Cllr Brennan, a Fine Gael local representative in the town, is calling on a high-level taskforce with multi-stakeholders involved including Dawn Fresh Food, the Department of Agriculture, IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and local agencies such as the VEC to come together as a matter of urgency to see what can be achieved.

This story was updated with an inteview with Cllr John Brennan at 4.57pm