The end of the Ford production line was the end of an era for Cork

After 67 years as an anchor employer at the Marina, a perfect storm of mounting losses, a hard recession, and the ending of tariffs on car assembly, meant the Irish plant had to close in 1984.

The end of the Ford production line was the end of an era for Cork

By the time the 1980’s dawned, Ford’s links with Cork had been embedded for more than 60 years and generations of families had obtained employment there.

But the city and its people never lost their sense of gratitude to the company, and the shared memory of the insecurities of the era pre-1917, when Henry Ford announced his plan for a Marina factory, remained buried in the psyche.

Evidence of this can be seen in a telling story told by a Marina employee, in Miriam Nyhan Grey’s book Are You Still Below?: The Ford Marina Plant, Cork, 1917-1984.

“I remember going to a course in Brussels around 1969 or 1970,” the Ford worker recalled.

“There were 15 of us on the course, there were two Irish fellas and the rest were Europeans.

“On the Monday, they put up a chart on the board and they asked which of these were the highest priority in your life, and they listed ‘wages’, ‘salaries’, the whole lot.

“And one of the bullet points was ‘security’. Security of job. And of course, the two Irish fellas put down ‘security’ as number one. The Europeans didn’t consider it. But that’s how important it was in those days. If you had a good job, you held onto it. ’Twas as simple as that.”

That attitude not only prevailed, but was even more acute by the early 1980s.

Management and workers were only too aware that the 12-year deal struck when Ireland joined the EEC, staving off the addition of tariffs in the car industry, was due to expire on January 1, 1985.

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From that date, tariffs would be liable on car assembly in Irish factories, putting the viability of the Marina plant in great jeopardy.

The workforce in Cork were unlikely to forget that, especially as the countdown led to frequent feverish speculation in newspapers on the future of the plant and its workers.

It cannot have helped calm the jitters among the workforce when the neighbouring Dunlop factory closed down in 1983, after nearly 50 years in operation, making around 850 people redundant.

Meanwhile, the Verolme Cork Dockyard a few miles downriver, which employed 1,000 people, was also the subject of much speculation as to its future and was to itself close in 1984.

Over at Ford, the workers and management fought hard to increase business and productivity, while efforts were made to introduce a replacement industry, but the wider economy made life difficult.

A period of high inflation in the early 1980s had seen costs in Ireland soar by a staggering 52% over three years, compared with 19% in Belgium, where Ford had a plant at Genk.

The Irish company had suffered losses of £25million over three years, and was facing a further loss of £10million in 1984.

Cork’s output of 80 cars, against Dagenham’s production of 1,000 a day, also drew unfavourable comparisons. Even with a single production line in operation, the Irish plant was haemorrhaging money.

Meanwhile, in the United States from 1980 to 1982 the Ford Motor Company was also losing money and unlikely to continue supporting loss-making operations.

On Tuesday morning, January 17, 1984 the Cork Examiner announced the closure of the Dagenham foundry after half a century in operation. If the Marina workers had read this news and perhaps breathed a sigh of relief at dodging a bullet, they were to be sadly mistaken.

That morning, Ford Ireland Chairman and Managing Director Paddy Hayes summoned the 1,100 workers to a meeting in the canteen. What he was about to say would signal an end of 67 years of industry on the site.

Mr Hayes did not sugar-coat the pill. He told staff the factory was uncompetitive, and all efforts to find a replacement industry had failed. The plant’s closure was inevitable, and would take place in six months’ time; 800 of the 1,100 jobs would be lost.

Then something unusual happened. As the devastating news sank in, there was a round of applause that went ringing around the shop floor, an indication of the camaraderie of the workforce and the efforts that had been made to keep the plant going.

The final day, aptly, fell on a Friday the 13th, in July, 1984, and the Marina site then fell silent for good.

However, the legacy that Ford left in Cork remains positive to this day.

Generations of families are grateful for the reliable employment and good pay offered to the workers.

Also, Ford remains the only car company in Ireland to have its head office outside Dublin, employing 40 people in its Cork office. It never left its ancestral home.

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