I thank you, Sir, for affording me the opportunity to raise the very serious matter of the discontinuance of pig slaughtering and processing in my constituency in Counties Cavan and Monaghan. Long before such production became so intensified, with very large numbers of animals and computerised feeding systems, both counties had been the largest pig producers nationwide. Unless their slaughtering and processing industry is reinstated the potential for future production in that region will be bleak with the closure of two plants. The McCarren plant in Cavan which had been experiencing labour problems closed partially and eventually completely. That was followed by the closure of the Dawn Pork and Bacon plant in Monaghan. I was informed that its premises required substantial funding to bring it up to the standard required by the relevant EU legislation. These closures have put well in excess of 200 people out of work in addition to the spin-off effects in many other areas. There is much talk about improvements in employment generally but in that area in the period November 1994 to April 1996 there was a 12 per cent increase in the numbers of people unemployed in Monaghan alone.
When one examines the history of pig slaughtering one discovers that in 1989 there were 20 pig slaughtering units slaughtering 2.1 million pigs; in 1995 that figure had been reduced to eight slaughtering units, in line with IDA policy at that time when that agency conducted a survey based on the Danish production system. In 1996 that figure has been reduced to six plants slaughtering 2.9 million pigs.
Whether one is engaged in producing cattle, pigs or poultry, it is generally accepted that one should locate one's processing plant as close as possible to one's primary producers. That has been an accepted principle over many years since the transportation of livestock or poultry over long distances tends to affect the quality of the meat.
North of a line from Drogheda to Galway where there is much pig production no work is being done and nobody is earning money. Four companies control the slaughtering and processing of pigs, with one of those accounting for 50 per cent of total slaughtering. Prior to the setting up in Northern Ireland of the Unilver Group most of the pigs produced in Armagh, Fermanagh and Tyrone were slaughtered in plants in Monaghan. I would like to know why those plants had to close. Fewer people are now involved in pig production in the South. One month ago the price of Irish grade E pigmeat was 16.6 per cent less than the EU average, with the German producer recording 37p per kilo more than the British producer who, in turn, recorded a 23 per cent increase on the Irish producer. I ask the Minister to undertake an indepth study of pig production and processing.