Building a significant plant of the scale required to compete in the European sugar-processing area will cost between €250m and €350m.
The cost estimate was revealed in the Dáil by Agriculture, Food, and Marine Minister Simon Coveney, when replying to a priority question from Sinn Féin TD Martin Ferris.
Mr Coveney said nobody would be happier than himself to see the sugar industry back in Ireland.
The Government had provided the opportunity for this industry to re-emerge, he said, adding that they had fought hard for the abolition of sugar quotas.
He said it is now up to the industry to put together a proposition around rebuilding a sugar plant in the future, probably linked with ethanol, and to make the numbers in that regard add up.
Mr Coveney said he had met with two different consortia on this issue, both of whom are, in his view, very credible. He had remained in contact with one.
“The Government will be as supportive as it can be. However, I will not subsidise an industry only to find in the future I cannot further subsidise it and it collapses.
“This industry must be able to stand on its own two feet. I believe it has a fighting chance,” he said.
Mr Coveney said there are great people involved in trying to make it happen and he hoped it will happen.
“Time is on their side because sugar quotas remain in place until 2017. There is a great deal of credible work going on to make this happen,” he said.
Noting that there are encouraging signs, Mr Ferris said the industry had served rural Ireland well. It should have remained in public ownership, he claimed, and said it should never have been privatised and closed.
It appeared, from Mr Coveney’s reply, that the attempts now being made to re-establish the industry are credible and that the project is being advanced.
Noting the minister’s remarks that the State would not provide financial support, Mr Ferris asked him to reconsider that decision if some support is required to get the project over the line.
However, he was not suggesting this would be necessary.
Mr Coveney said people should not underestimate just how positive a sugar industry is for agriculture. It is a great crop and a cash crop for farmers’ that is not reliant on payments and subsidies.
“If we can rebuild this industry, we should do it. My understanding is that approximately half, if not two-thirds, of the hectarage of sugar beet that was grown when we had a sugar industry is still grown in Ireland,” he said.
Mr Coveney said the issue is “whether the level of investment will be able to provide a return that is commercially viable and bankable, and whether we can put together a consortium that can make this happen”.
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