News Corp announces plan to shut down Kells printing plant

Publisher has ‘regretfully concluded’ move two months after acquiring press

A 30-day consultation period with trade union Siptu has now begun, with representatives of the union confirming they will meet with management on Wednesday. Photograph: iStock

A 30-day consultation period with trade union Siptu has now begun, with representatives of the union confirming they will meet with management on Wednesday. Photograph: iStock

 

News UK & Ireland has signalled its intention to close its printing plant in Kells, Co Meath, just months after it took control of the operation.

The publisher of the Sun and the Sunday Times, part of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire News Corp, said it was proposing the shutdown of the plant after an “extensive review” of the business, which employs 59 people, and that it planned to outsource the printing of its own newspapers to other Irish plants.

A 30-day consultation period with trade union Siptu has now begun, with representatives of the union confirming they will meet with management on Wednesday.

Siptu organiser Teresa Thompson said the announcement had “deeply shocked” members employed at the facility.

“These workers have continued to work throughout the pandemic and were actively engaged in a review of operations at the plant,” she said.

If the closure goes ahead, Siptu will seek to ensure that the redundancy packages that follow are “reflective of the appropriate Labour Court recommendations”.

The company’s announcement comes after a subsidiary of News Corp was cleared in June by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission to acquire the owner and operator of the printing press inside the plant, Smurfit Kappa News Press, which was part of the paper and packaging group Smurfit Kappa. The site and building were already owned by News Corp.

The acquisition attracted attention ahead of its completion after a demonstration at the site in Kells Business Park and a call by Sinn Féin TD for Meath East, Darren O’Rourke, on News UK & Ireland to honour existing employment agreements, including redundancy entitlements.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar then wrote to Mr O’Rourke to say Meath West TD Damien English, a Minister of State in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment was seeking a meeting with Smurfit Kappa to “discuss concerns expressed locally” about the deal.

On Monday evening, the publisher said it had “regretfully concluded that it proposes to close the plant and outsource printing to other third-party print sites in Ireland”.

A statement published on its website continued: “This proposal is subject to consultation and the company will be engaging with the staff and union as appropriate. This development will have no impact on the publication of News Ireland’s news brands.”

‘Difficult conclusion’

A spokesperson for the company said: “News UK & Ireland Limited will continue to invest in our quality journalism and serving our readers. Although this was a difficult conclusion to reach, we believe it provides the most viable and sustainable long-term solution for the printing business.

“We wish to thank the News Press Ireland staff in Kells for their continued cooperation and understanding, and we are committed to offering every possible support as we undertake the staff consultation process.”

Mr O’Rourke described the news as “very disappointing for the local economy in Kells” and in particular for the workers involved.

“It’s absolutely essential that News Corp engage now in good faith with workers and their union and honour long-standing agreements,” he wrote on Twitter.

The plant, which was opened by then taoiseach Bertie Ahern and began operating in 2002, prints all Murdoch titles in Ireland as well as the Irish versions of the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, and locally sold copies of the Financial Times.

The Irish printing industry has been in decline in recent years, prompting press owners to take steps to rationalise their interests and, in the case of publishers, avail of the excess production capacity that exists at the remaining plants.