Former boss questions terms of sale of State seaweed firm

Tony Barrett believes buyer seeking exclusive access to the west coast’s valuable seaweed crop

Harvesting seaweed on the west coast near Carna, Co Galway. Photograph:  Joe O’Shaughnessy

Harvesting seaweed on the west coast near Carna, Co Galway. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

 

A former chief executive of State seaweed company Arramara Teo has called for full disclosure of the terms under which the firm was sold to Canadian interests.

Tony Barrett, who served as the head of Arramara until 2007, said that he believed the buyer, Acadian Seaplants, was seeking exclusive access to the west coast’s valuable seaweed crop as part of the deal.

Two European Parliament and several local authority election candidates, along with former Gaeltacht minister Éamon Ó Cuív, have already called for details to be made public, following conclusion of the purchase this month with Údarás na Gaeltachta for an undisclosed sum.

Arramara Teo applied for foreshore rights shortly before its sale, having hitherto relied on the licensing rights of several hundred traditional harvesters during its 67- year history.

Mr Barrett believes the sale was contingent on this application being made. If it is approved by the Department of the Environment, he says this will effectively undermine the role of some 250 harvesters , and may cut out other players. “Harvesting rights should stay with the harvesters,” he said.


Leading producer
Founded in 1947, Arramara was jointly owned by the State, with 82 per cent of company shares, and by ISP Alginates, one of the world’s leading alginate producers, until 2006, when Údarás took over 100 per cent of the shares.

Arramara has recorded an average annual turnover of more than €2 million annually, harvesting some 25,000 tonnes of an average crop of 70,000 tonnes of ascophyllum nodosum – one of some 500 species of seaweed along the 7,800km Irish coastline.

Mr Barrett, who joined the company, based in Cill Chiaráin in Connemara, in 1999, and became chief executive in 2005, made an unsuccessful bid to purchase Arramara in 2006.

He left to form Irish Seaweed Processors in 2007. “I felt there was so much potential but not enough investment in resource and development, and seaweed was just being dried and shipped to Scotland with no added value,” he said. His company specialises in extraction of bio-active compounds from seaweed for sale to the health food and cosmetic industries.

Údarás chief executive Steve Ó Cúláin said the acquisition would “safeguard the future of the company”.

The sale was never put out to tender, Mr Barrett said, and he has questioned why Údarás was advising an Oireachtas joint subcommittee to “regulate” the industry even as it was trying to dispose of Arramara.