Glenisk will regroup and rebuild following fire, director says

Nobody injured as blaze spread quickly through yoghurt plant in Co Offaly on Monday

The full extent of the damage from the fire is still being assessed. Photograph:  Niall Carson/PA Wire

The full extent of the damage from the fire is still being assessed. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

Glenisk will regroup and rebuild as quickly as possible to become operational again, the managing director Vincent Cleary said following the fire which destroyed the company’s yoghurt manufacturing plant.

The alarm was raised shortly after 11am on Monday but the blaze spread quickly through the plant at Killeigh, outside Tullamore in Co Offaly. Fifty staff working on site at the time were safely evacuated from the building. Nobody was injured. The full extent of the damage is still being assessed.

Speaking on RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland on Tuesday, Mr Cleary admitted that tears had been shed during the night, but that he would be meeting line managers to “make a list” to get back to work.

Glenisk managing director Vincent Cleary said It was still uncertain what exactly had happened at the plant on Monday. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Glenisk managing director Vincent Cleary said it was still uncertain what exactly had happened at the plant on Monday. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Mr Cleary said he wanted all the staff to “buy into” whatever plans are developed and that they will “take ownership” of the plans.

It was still uncertain what exactly had happened on Monday, he said. Smoke was first noticed at midday in the incubation room and within seconds the fire quickly spread along a wall. Even though there was shock among the staff, the building was evacuated quickly because of regular drills.

“I thought it was a drill at first, but it was the real thing. I think the training saved a lot of lives yesterday.”

The factory was a burnt-out shell on Tuesday morning, he said. “We are going to regroup. We will come up with a plan B, we need to get back on shelves as soon as possible.”

Knock-on effects

Glenisk is the largest yoghurt maker in the State and it accounts for 90 per cent of all the organic milk produced in the Republic and Northern Ireland.

That means the knock-on effects for the 50 or so farmers who supply the company will be sizeable until they can get back into production. Glenisk employs about 85 people at the plant.

Mr Cleary said he was humbled by offers of support and capacity from competitor companies. The future of Glenisk was uncertain, he said, but there would be a plan. “We have a great crew, many have been in place for 20 years. I have a responsibility to provide gainful employment to them.”

The company’s milk tankers were not damaged in the fire and will be collecting organic milk as usual on Tuesday “even if we have to take a financial hit to ensure there is no impact on the farmers”.

Mr Cleary said he would be seeking out fabricators and machine builders to try to get the operation back up and running.

In a statement on Twitter, the company said: “Devastated to confirm a serious fire at our plant today.

“All colleagues safely evacuated. We will assess the damage and move forward. Heartfelt thanks to the emergency services.”

Fifty staff working on site at the time were safely evacuated from the building. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin
Fifty staff working on site at the time were safely evacuated from the building. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

Director Emma Walls said: “We don’t fully know the extent of the damage, and until we have full access to the site we won’t be able to assess the damage.

“What’s clear, though, is it is pretty devastating. We think that the yoghurt plant has been very severely damaged.

“We hope that the yoghurt processing unit, where we pack our one-litre cartons of organic cows’ milk and goats’ milk, can be brought back to life in short order and we hope to get that process under way today.

“It’s early days and it’s hard to be sure what the extent of the damage is,” she said.

“The staff are devastated, but they are resilient and many of them have been with us 20 years or more and I know all of them will work together to rebuild the business.

“There’s a real determination not to allow this to take over and we have to rebuild and start again.”

Offaly Fire and Rescue said it had 34 firefighters tackling the blaze over the course of the afternoon, with units attending from Tullamore, Edenderry, Clara and Portarlington. Some staff were reportedly treated for smoke inhalation.

A video on social media showed dense black smoke engulfing what appeared to be the whole factory. No cause of the blaze has yet been determined.

Locals were advised to remain indoors and close their windows and doors and gardaí closed the road between Killeigh and Annaharvey.

‘Extraordinary contribution’

Minister of State for Land Use and Biodiversity Pippa Hackett has said she will be in Tullamore on Tuesday evening to talk to the company.

“This is a successful business, built from scratch, and one of the main processors of organic milk in the country. As the Minister with responsibility for organics, I want to recognise the extraordinary contribution Glenisk have made to the organic sector,” she said.

In a statement, local Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen said the fire appeared to have caused “extensive damage” to the facility.

“This is terrible news for all those associated with Glenisk today,” Mr Cowen said. “Everyone was relieved to hear that there had been no casualties reported, however, the blaze appears to have caused extensive damage to the facility. Our thoughts are with everyone at Glenisk right now.”

Nigel Renaghan from the Irish Farmers’ Association said the fire could have “disastrous consequences for organic milk suppliers”.

“Glenisk suppliers must be safeguarded at this time, and alternative arrangements put in place for the processing of the milk,” he said. – Additional reporting: PA