Bunhill: Irish eyes are grieving

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The Independent Online
WHAT Tony giveth, Tony may taketh away.

Next Tuesday, Tony O'Reilly, the Irish-American corporate giant (and possible bidder for Mirror Group Newspapers), will attend a ceremony in Dundalk near the Republic's border with Northern Ireland.

The Heinz boss will unveil the foundation stone of a IR pounds 14m ( pounds 13m) factory which, at full capacity, will bring 300 jobs to a depressed region.

If Dr O'Reilly has good news for Dundalk, however, things are gloomy at Waterford, nearly 200 miles to the south.

Away from Heinz, the former rugby international is the founder and chairman of Fitzwilton, a mini-conglomerate quoted in Dublin and London.

In June 1990, Fitzwilton, together with Morgan Stanley, subscribed for a IR pounds 100m issue to refinance Waterford Wedgwood.

Then, O'Reilly and friends were hailed as white knights. Now, the local population are not so sure. Last year, citing the high cost of production at Waterford - where skilled workers earn up to IR pounds 40,000 a year - the company started to market crystal produced in eastern Europe under the Waterford name.

The non-Irish crystal, sold as the Marquis range, is part-made by machine and is far cheaper than traditional Waterford. Now the board wants 500 redundancies and a 25-30 per cent pay cut at Waterford. A vast range of products is to be made cheaply in eastern Europe. Don Brennan, Waterford's chairman, maintains that international customers do not care where the glass is made. 'I believe that Waterford is a strong enough brand that it can be produced outside Ireland,' he said last month.

At a meeting on Thursday night, workers voted to oppose the management plan. This makes it likely that most will lose their jobs in a non-voluntary redundancy programme.

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