Foundation stone for Irish dairy

The old Dairy Disposal Company was initially a kind of Nama for the dairy industry in Munster, according to a new book.

Irish Agriculture Nationalised — the Dairy Disposal Company and the making of the modern Irish dairy industry by Dr Mícheál Ó Fathartaigh tells the story of what was one of the first Irish state-sponsored bodies.

It was established in 1927 to acquire private creameries and other agri-businesses (which were failing on a widespread basis) and transfer them to co-operative societies.

The then agriculture minister, Paddy Hogan, said he hoped that nobody would make the mistake of regarding this transaction as the beginnings of a policy under which the government proposed to run the creameries of the country.

While the company was intended to be a temporary agency, it remained active for some five decades and stimulated economic growth, especially in the south. It also supported many community projects in the areas where it operated, especially in the 1950s.

The company, which laid the foundations for Golden Vale and Kerry Group, operated 191 creameries and 86 other agribusinesses, employed 1,400 people, and was an industrial outlet for 25,000 farmers at its height in the 1940s.

It also operated a network of travelling creameries which stopped at various locations to collect milk from farmers, helping in the process to unlock the potential of remote dairying areas.

Dr Ó Fathartaigh, who lectures in modern history at Dublin Business School and is a visiting researcher in the School of Business at Trinity College Dublin, explains that the DCC shaped the dairy industry by developing businesses in peripheral areas.

His insightful book charts the company’s story up to 1978, when it was dissolved in the aftermath of Ireland joining the then European Economic Community. The 340-page book examines the company’s development, functioning, governance, performance, dissolution, legacy, clientelism, and political patronage.

Dr Ó Fathartaigh expresses the hope that the book will bring about a much more general awareness of the DDC and the part that it played in the story of the dairy industry.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny congratulated the author, a Galway man, whose main research interest is Irish economic and social history in the 20th century, when he launched the book at the headquarters of the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society (ICOS) in Dublin.

ICOS represents co-ops and organisations whose associated businesses have a combined turnover in the region of €14bn, with 150,000 members, employing 12,000 people in Ireland and a further 24,000 people overseas.

Mr said Dr Ó Fathartaigh’s book seems very timely in light of the growing public interest in our food and the circumstances of its provenance.

“It charts a model and mindset of enterprise and ambition that were before their time, precisely the same mindset, in fact, that now sees Ireland once more to the fore as a dairy superpower. It is also a book which links the story of the past with the story of the present, making it all the more readable and valuable,” he said.

Professor Eunan O’Halpin, Centre for Contemporary Irish History, Trinity College Dublin, who makes the Nama comparison in a foreword to the publication, notes that EEC membership from 1973 required that the State cease to play a direct role in agricultural production.

“Thanks to the farsighted and progressive ethos of the DCC, the dairy industry was far better prepared for the opportunities and challenges of membership than most other segments of the Irish economy, industrial or agricultural,” he states.

Prof O’Halpin pays tribute to the late Jim Moloney, an economics and history graduate of University College Cork, who worked for many years in the co-operative movement in Munster and who was instrumental in having the DDC’s achievements finally recognised.

Mr Moloney, a native of Barryroe, Co Cork, played a key role in the creamery rationalisation programmes in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, and later served as chairman of the Irish Agricultural Wholesale Society (IAWS), overseeing its transformation into an agribusiness of European scale and worldwide reach.

Prof O’Halpin said Mr Moloney knew the lineage, record, and political history of every co-op in Munster, and he also understood how, through the DDC, the government had facilitated the development of the modern dairy industry.

“He was determined that the achievements of the DDC should be enumerated and explored, not simply for historical reasons but because he maintained that there were lessons to be learned for future state involvement in the development of the rural economy.

“Rather than commission a coffee-table book, Jim Moloney ensured that the IAWS supported an intensive, deeply researched doctoral study by Mícheál Ó Fathartaigh of the Centre for Contemporary Irish History at Trinity College. Out of that study has come this book.”

Prof O’Halpin said the book is as much a memorial to Mr Moloney as it is a monument to the remarkable state enterprise whose developments and achievements Dr Ó Fathartaigh has so meticulously and vividly described.

Mr Moloney once claimed history will show the Dairy Disposal Company to have been a very worthy organisation.

The book, published by the Institute of Public Administration, with the help of a subvention from the Golden Jubilee Trust of the ICOS, clearly supports that assertion.


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