Cheesemaking ends in Fivemiletown as creamery is closed
Employees of a creamery in Co Tyrone have been dealt a blow after being told the plant will close in just over a month.
Dairy cooperative Dale Farm has announced it will not renew its lease on the Fivemiletown creamery site and is planning to relocate staff and cheese production more than 60 miles away to its facility in Cullybackey, close to Ballymena.
Dale Farm is supporting the 18 staff currently employed at the Fivemiletown site by offering transfers to other Dale Farm production locations or, where this is not feasible, securing suitable redundancy packages, it said in a statement.
The only Fivemiletown cheese Dale Farm will continue to produce from early June will be goat's cheese.
All other lines - including the award-winning Ballybrie, Ballyblue, Ballyoak and smoked Oakwood cheddar - will no longer be carried.
DUP councillor Wills Robinson said party leader Arlene Foster had been in touch with Dale Farm and the party will continue to work to ensure the best outcome for the affected employees.
"Many of them are long-term workers and no one wants this type of uncertainty," he said.
Expressing her disappointment, Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA Rosemary Barton said: Once again South Tyrone has been hit by the closure of another factory.
"This is extremely disappointing news coming less than six months after the ceasing of the precast concrete manufacturing A&G Plant at Ballygawley.
"While Dale Farm are keen to support the 18 staff that will be made redundant and offer them similar positions within Dale Farm, unfortunately these positions are some distance from Fivemiletown.
"I have requested a meeting with Nick Whelan, group chief executive of Dale Farm Ltd, to discuss the matter in more detail and the options available for the work force."
UUP Mid Ulster District councillor Robert Mulligan said it was a bitter blow for the employees.
"It may only be a relatively small number of jobs that are affected but these days even one job is too many," he said.
"This will be a real blow to the families of these employees.
"Perhaps if they were being offered alternative employment in Cookstown it might be possible for staff to relocate, but if the only alternative is Cullybackey then I'm sure it will be out of the question for most."
Dale Farm said it had "taken the decision not to renew its leases on the Fivemiletown Creamery site, with plans to relocate staff and cheese production to its facility at Dromona" in Cullybackey.
It added: "In May 2014, Dale Farm bought the Fivemiletown speciality cheese brand from Glanbia Ingredients Ireland and reached agreement with Fivemiletown & Brookeborough Co-operative to take over the production of its cheese at the Fivemiletown site.
"Dale Farm leased the premises from Fivemiletown & Brookeborough Co-operative and took over employment of its staff.
"The lease arrangement with Fivemiletown & Brookeborough Co-operative is due to terminate in 2019 and Dale Farm will not renew this.
"Dale Farm has stated that following careful consideration, maintaining production of Fivemiletown cheese at the Fivemiletown site was deemed no longer feasible.
"Dale Farm will relocate production of the main lines of our Fivemiletown cheeses to our facility at Dromona Cullybackey.
"However, the low volume Fivemiletown cheese retail lines will no longer be carried.
"Dale Farm is keen to ensure the Fivemiletown brand remains active in Northern Ireland and will continue to produce Fivemiletown goat's cheese.
"Production of Fivemiletown cheese at Fivemiletown Creamery will cease in early June 2019."
UFU deputy president Victor Chestnutt expressed disappointment at the news, but said it was reassuring to hear that plans are in place to relocate affected staff.
He added that the UFU will continue to monitor the situation to ensure that their milk suppliers are not affected.