The Irish food industry got its biggest boost ever on Tuesday in a jobs announcement made as farmers marched through Dublin to protect their money from the EU and to protest against planned budget cuts to their industry.
Although the two events were unconnected, government ministers hoped 10,000 protesting farmers would acknowledge that 900 new jobs in the food industry represented a massive vote of confidence in Ireland.
Irish company Kerry Group, founded only 40 years ago and now employing 24,000 people worldwide, is to create 900 jobs with the establishment of a food technology center in Naas, Co. Kildare, within the next four years.
It’s the biggest jobs announcement by an Irish producer for many years, and the largest single investment in food innovation ever by a company in Ireland.
The €100 million center will initially employ 800 people when it begins operations in 2015, but that figure will rise to 900 in 2016. A further 400 jobs will be created in construction work.
Jobs Minister Richard Bruton described the announcement as “great news for the Irish economy.”
"Central to the government’s plans for jobs and growth is creating a powerful engine of indigenous enterprise,” he said.
Bruton said the move, announced on Tuesday, put Ireland firmly at the “forefront of global food innovation.”
In February, the Kerry Group, which started in a small base in Listowel 40 years ago, reported an increase in annual pre-tax profits of almost 11 percent. Profits for 2011 were €449 million, up from €405 million the previous year.
Kerry Group chief executive Stan McCarthy said there will be recruitment of graduates from Europe, the Middle East and Africa, with the majority coming from Irish universities.
McCarthy said Kerry will be looking for a cross section of people with technical and scientific skills who will work across the food and beverage platform.
He also said that the Kerry Group looked at others locations for the business including the U.K. and Europe. However, once all the business considerations were made, it was clear that Naas was the best option.
Minister for Agriculture and Food Simon Coveney said the new center will be the most technologically advanced food research facility on the planet, adding that more than 500 top food scientists from leading global companies will visit every year to develop products with Kerry.
Meanwhile, in the farmers protest, every rural parish in Ireland was represented among the 10,000 who marched in a “day of action” launched by the Irish Farmers’ Association. It was the biggest farm demonstration in Dublin for several years.
The main concern of farmers is the reform of the EU Common Agricultural Policy over the next few months.
The Irish Farmers’ Association is insisting that there should be no cuts to the €1.6 billion Ireland gets every year.
The association is also opposed to proposals to redistribute the individual annual payments to farmers, arguing that the most productive farmers in Ireland could lose out. It does not want any cuts by the government in the €300 million it spends on farm schemes in December’s budget.
IFA president John Bryan said in a speech outside the Dail (Parliament) that farmers want to send a clear message to the government that they must fight in Brussels to secure a deal that supports productive farmers and the rural economy.
Bryan acknowledged the difficult budgetary situation facing all sectors of society but said the government’s agriculture budget had been unfairly targeted. It had been cut by over 40 percent since 2008, compared with an average 10 percent across all government departments.