Last week, Paul Bradford Fine Gael’s senator for East Cork highlighted concerns about the future of Mallow and called on the Minister for Agriculture, Mary Coughlan, to prevent its early dismantling due to start within weeks.
Mr Bradford’s comments followed a Fine Gael-led public meeting held in Mallow last Thursday night where the prospect of Mallow being used to produce bio-fuels was proposed as a realistic option for the plant.
Those present were informed that up to three consortiums were looking at the idea of setting up a bio- fuel plant in the south.
If that happened, farmers would get nearly as much for growing sugar for the alternative fuel plant as they did for growing beet to make sugar for human consumption. It is well known that beet farmers in Cork, Waterford and Wexford are keen to stay in the business of growing beet.
They tried in vain to get Greencore to go for one more beet harvest this year, but failed. Many blame the IFA for their lack of support.
As the party with traditional links to the farming sector, Fine Gael has championed the cause of biofuels and sees the Mallow factory as a potential site for such an operation.
If delivered, it would have the twin benefits of keeping farmers growing beet and it would also help in the quest for alternative energy sources to lessen our serious exposure to fossil fuels.
The meeting in Mallow was informed that three business groups were exploring the possibility of putting in place a bio-fuel plant in the sugar-growing region in the south, and that Mallow was a prime target.
NTR is not interested in investing in Mallow, despite its commitment to spending €1.5bn in the bio-fuel sector over the next five years.
Two businessmen from the south are said to be the driving force behind one of the other groups.
The loss of the sugar industry is a disaster for north Cork, says Mr Bradford.
Many farmers in the Cork and Waterford region were deeply upset with the IFA which seemed to have adopted a “take-the-money and run strategy”, on the closure of Mallow.
The decision by Greencore to end the sugar regime could be alleviated by utilising the Mallow plant to produce energy crops.
However, to achieve this goal needs political leadership and Ms Coughlan must take the first step by instructing Greencore to keep the Mallow plant in place, says Mr Bradford.
“So far, the minister’s record on the Irish sugar industry and dealing with the aftermath of its collapse has been little short of calamitous”.
Fine Gael has published an Energy for the Future document geared at developing the alternative energy sector. It argues that a central plank in that strategy had to be the use of sugar beet for the manufacture of bio-ethanol.
There can be no doubt that the establishment of a bio-fuel plant on the Mallow site would be a huge boost to the town and to the generations of farmers who have worked in it.
Mr Bradford went on condemn the minister for lacking such a plan and for seeming to be content to allow “a potentially viable industry flounder”.
There is no doubt that farmers in the south have taken a different view to the end of the sugar regime in Ireland and that they want an alternative industry to ensure their livelihoods.