Tara Mines production suspended with 650 workers temporarily laid off

Swedish parent says Europe’s largest zinc mine is ‘high cost’

The owner of Tara Mines in County Meath has shut down production and temporarily laid off 650 workers.

“Due to a combination of factors, the Tara mine in Ireland will be placed under care and maintenance,” Swedish parent company Boliden said in a statement. “The decision means that production and exploration ceases temporarily at the mine.”

The suspension, which will be implemented within the next four weeks, is “in response to significant and unsustainable financial losses that the business is currently experiencing,” it said in a separate statement. The company “cannot be definitive” on how long the lay-off will last.

“We believe that this situation is temporary,” the company said.

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Staff were informed of the company’s plans on Tuesday night. Management will review further supports available to employees during the lay-off, while a “small number of employees will continue to work on site during this period in order to care for and maintain the mine.”

While Boliden said it is working actively to extend the life of the mine in parallel with ensuring its competitiveness, it described the zinc mine as “high cost.”

“The business is currently cash flow negative, due to a combination of factors including operational challenges, a decline in the price of zinc, high energy prices and general cost inflation,” it said. The decision means that production at the mine ceases and that the workforce is temporarily laid off until conditions of the operation improve,” Boliden added.

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Simon Coveney TD, and Minister for Social Protection, Heather Humphreys TD, have said supports are being put in place immediately to assist Tara Mines workers.

Responding to the announcement tonight by the parent company Boliden, Mr Coveney said: “We have been speaking with Tara Mines in recent weeks and I was due to meet with senior Irish managers next week. Tonight’s decision of the board in Sweden is a shock and my thoughts are with all of the workers affected. The company has tonight told me the board is convinced this is a temporary closure.

“My department will immediately send in state agencies to assist workers, especially apprentices who are in the middle of their training. Enterprise Ireland has told me it can have a team there on Wednesday.

“Meanwhile the Government will continue to engage with Irish management and the parent company to try reverse this closure”

Ms Humphreys confirmed tonight that a dedicated team from the Department of Social Protection is being put in place to provide supports to the impacted workers and their families.

Mr Humphreys added: “My immediate thoughts tonight are with the workers and their families who are dealing with this extremely difficult news.

“My Department of Social Protection is on standby to help in whatever way we can.

“A dedicated team is being put in place and will be out on the ground with the company to provides information on income, redundancy entitlements and employment supports for their impacted employees.”

Tara, which has been in operation since 1977, is the largest zinc mine in Europe, and one of the biggest in the world. It made an operating profit of 441 million Swedish krona (€38.2 million) in 2022, according to Boliden’s website. The company bought Tara in 2004.

Boliden began restricting overtime and reduced drilling time as well as cutting contractors in the past few days, the Meath Chronicle reported on Monday. Chief executive Gunnar Nystrom had warned of a deteriorating financial situation, it added.

Zinc prices have fallen on international markets in recent months, dropping to the lowest level since 2020. The price of the metal tends to increase and fall on the back of the international economy, and the global slowdown has fed through to the cost of most metals used in industry.

Peter Flanagan

Peter Flanagan

Peter Flanagan is an Assistant Business Editor at The Irish Times