Last orders - Kilkenny brewery to close next year after 300-year history

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Kilkenny Advertiser, January 13, 2012.

By Sam Matthews

Kilkenny’s Smithwicks Brewery is to cease all operations and close completely by Christmas of 2013 – with the loss of 44 local jobs, drinks giant Diageo confirmed yesterday (Thursday).

Workers at the St Francis Abbey brewery were called to a meeting early yesterday morning, where they were informed of the decision. While the number of full-time staff currently in the brewery is 44, an unspecified number of other workers, including sub contractors, will be affected by the closure.

Diageo says it will now implement a redundancy, outplacement and retirement incentive programme for the employees.

The brewery, based in Irishtown, is Ireland’s oldest brewery. In 2010, it celebrated its 300th anniversary.

Speaking to the Kilkenny Advertiser, Mayor of Kilkenny David Fitzgerald said that the news was a bitter blow.

“This is devastating news for the workers, their families, and for the various suppliers and sub-contractors to the brewery in Kilkenny,” he said.

“As Mayor, I will be asking Diageo to clarify their position in relation to workers and in relation to the long-term future of the site at St Francis Abbey. We need to ensure that all redundancies are dealt with fairly and quickly, and that their impact is minimised.

“One of the things on which we will seek clarity is whether Diageo will be retaining the visitor centre and micro-brewery based on the site, and these jobs.”

The confirmation of the closure will also be a hard pill to swallow for Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan, who had previously called Diageo’s initial plans to close the brewery ‘wrong and misguided’.

Ian Hamilton, the brewery’s operations manager, was unavailable for comment yesterday.

However, a spokesperson for Diageo said that no decisions had yet been made regarding the future of the visitor and tour centre, the microbrewery, or the long term future of the historic site.

Recent estimates have put the brewery’s worth to the local economy at somewhere between €10 million and €15 million.

The decision came on foot of an announcement by Diageo to make a capital investment of €153 million in a new brewing centre and ‘rejuvenation’ at St James’s Gate in Dublin. As part of the scheme, the Great Northern Brewery in Dundalk is also to be shut down.

In 2008, Diageo announced plans regarding the centralisation of production. But the problem was thought to have been addressed in 2010, following a restructuring programme and a number of voluntary redundacies.

However, yesterday (Thursday) the company released a statement confirming that the St Francis Abbey Brewery was now scheduled for closure in December 2013, subject to planning and construction timelines at St James’s Gate.

Paul Armstrong, Diageo’s supply chain director said that the employees would be looked after.

“Our employees at Kilkenny have made an outstanding contribution to the success of our business over many years and it is with sadness and regret that we are required to make this decision in order to maintain our competitiveness,” he said.

“We are committed to supporting these employees through career management expertise, career counselling and outplacement support.”

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