'We don't want 112 people to walk out with no jobs'
What next? The Silvercrest plant is the biggest employer in Ballybay, Co Monaghan, with 112 people on the payroll. photograph: philip fitzpatrick/pa
In the villages where Silvercrest and Rangeland provide much-needed jobs, locals are divided as to how lasting an impact the horse DNA controversy will have
Silvercrest foods, with 112 people on the payroll, is the biggest employer in Ballybay, Co Monaghan, a town where jobs are scarce. “If anything were to happen those jobs, it would be a very big loss to the area,” says Gerry Traynor, who runs a newsagency and greengrocers on the edge of Ballybay, and who is also a Fianna Fáil councillor.
On the recent finding of horse DNA in burgers produced at Silvercrest, he says: “People are now asking the question, has this been going on for some time? What we don’t want to happen here is for 112 people to walk out the gates with no jobs.”
There are two butchers in Ballybay, MB Butchers and Quinn Quality Meats. Each displays a prominent sign stating that all its meat is Irish and locally sourced.
At Quinn Quality Meats, Martin Quinn emphasises the current market price of beef, which he says is €4.34 a kilo. “Once we have boned it, we sell it for €8.70 a kilo. It cannot be sold cheap,” he says, clearly upset. “You cannot sell 100 per cent Irish beef below cost and make a profit. All you have to do are the sums. Supermarkets are trying to kill off butchers.”
Down the street, Michael Lennon, the owner of MB Butchers, is unwilling to offer any opinion about Silvercrest, other than: “It’ll all blow over in a week or two.” Most local people are either silent or reluctant to be identified for this article.
At the Silvercrest plant, 1km outside Ballybay, the usually open gates are shut, and a security guard monitors each incoming and outgoing vehicle. None stops to talk to The Irish Times. On Wednesday, despite the fact production had ceased at the plant, the car park is full. Locals report it has been full most days.
Silvercrest employees are currently still on full pay, and there is much speculation in Ballybay about how long this will last. A long-established local businessman with connections to Silvercrest says: “I’m betting there are plans . . . to cease burger production altogether and put in another form of meat processing as soon as possible. That’s why nobody has been put on notice. I don’t think jobs will be lost.”
On Monday, production was suspended at Rangeland Foods in Lough Egish, 9km to the south. Lough Egish is a tiny village with two shops, a pub and various factory plants, including Lakeland Dairies, halfway between Ballybay and Carrickmacross.
The Rangeland plant, which employs 60 people, is located on Shercock Road, at a complex with other plants.
Testing of Rangeland products had found 75 per cent horse DNA in Polish-labelled raw material. Among Rangeland’s current clients is Supermac’s. Its highest-profile former client was McDonald’s, a contract it held from 1983 to 2007.
By Thursday, it has been announced that production at the plant was recommencing.