Coughlan row over ‘welcome’ to brewery plan

THE Diageo announcement saw Mary Coughlan walking into her first row since being appointed Tánaiste and Enterprise Minister less than 48 hours earlier.

Under the company’s €650m restructuring plan, 250 jobs will be lost in Kilkenny and Dundalk in five years’ time when a new facility on the outskirts of Dublin becomes fully operational. Brewing will continue on the historic St James’s Gate site in inner-city Dublin, but on a smaller scale.

Despite this, Ms Coughlan issued a press release “welcoming” the Diageo announcement, which led to harsh criticism from the opposition. It also put her at odds with Justice Minister Dermot Ahern.

Ms Coughlan’s statement chose to focus on the positive elements of the Diageo announcement.

“This is a major investment that secures the future of brewing in Ireland. I also welcome the company’s intention to retain and upgrade the St James’s Gate brewery.”

Ms Coughlan acknowledge there would be a “net reduction” in employment when the restructuring is finished in 2013, but said her department would “work closely” with the company to secure “the best possible outcome”.

In the same press release, her colleague, Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith, said the restructuring was “very good news for Ireland”.

But Justice Minister Ahern, whose constituency includes Dundalk, said: “I am pretty devastated. Diageo already took 300 jobs out of Dundalk a couple of years ago.

“I wasn’t happy with the way they did that,” he told the Eamon Keane programme on Newstalk radio station.

Fine Gael, meanwhile, castigated Ms Coughlan’s approach to the issue.

“The decision by Tánaiste and Enterprise Minister Mary Coughlan, just two days into her job, to welcome this rationalisation process with barely a reference to the job losses is extraordinary,” said Fine Gael enterprise spokesman Leo Varadkar.

“Not only does this show a distinct lack of political judgment, it also displays a cold-heartedness and arrogance that few would have expected from Minister Coughlan.”

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