THE news that 52 employees at Finsa are to be made redundant has been met with deep regret among a community which has had chipboard manufacturing at its heart since the 1950s.
Local man Michael O’Gorman recounted the 50 year history of chipboard in East Clare in his 2009 publication A Day to Remember, where he talks of the efforts of a community ravaged by emigration to secure local employment opportunities.
In this publication, he outlines how the story of chipboard manufacturing began with a talk given by Dr Jeremiah Bernard O’Driscoll BL at the inaugural meeting of Scariff Development Association.
Dr O’Driscoll, a lawyer and industrialist from Nenagh told those present on January 9, 1957, that he knew the German-based industrial firm Aicher Chipboard were eager to expand into Ireland. He, with the support of newly formed development association and endorsed by the Very Reverend Gerry Ryan, went on to encourage Aicher to build their factory in Scariff.
Among those to get involved with the development association was local building contractor Tom McInerney, who declared that he and his company were prepared to give considerable financial backing to the proposal. Following the compilation of a manifesto by Dr O’Driscoll, the group got to work securing sites of 22 acres and 15 acres which they had approved as suitable for a factory and timber yard.
The manifesto indicated that about 30,000 tons of timber would be needed annually at the plant to meet demand in the building industry and it was expected the factory could initially employ 150 people with a potential for further employment growth.
According to research carried out by Michael O’Gorman, the capital sum needed was Stg£486,000 and it is understood that of this sum, Stg£186,000 was provided through a government grant. Meanwhile, a local contribution was estimated at Stg£40,000. Local people came on board investing all the money they could and in a very short time, they raised the required capital. Among them were local shopkeepers, labourers, professionals, tradesmen, while Tom McInerney and the Aicher parent company agreed to pay whatever balance remained.
On Friday August 8, 1958, at the Thomond Hotel in Scariff, the articles and memorandum of association of Chipboard Ltd were signed and there began the long history of chipboard manufacturing in Scariff.
According to reports in The Clare Champion, Thomas McInerney and Sons proffered the lowest tender for the construction of the new factory in November 1958.
The then disused Royal Hotel served as the initial headquarters for the plant and Rev Fr Gerry Ryan turned the first sod in late December 1958.
By August 1959, huge stocks of timber began arriving into the timber yard of the factory and on October 8, 1959, it was agreed the plant was ready to make a few trial runs.
December 17, 1959, saw Chipboard Ltd, Scariff going into full production after just 53 weeks since the sod was turned. The market for chipboard produced in Scariff in the years that followed would extend as far away as the West Indies and Australia.
According to Michael O’Gorman, by 1960 the factory had expanded operating a three-shift rota on a six-day week basis. To cater for the demand, the number of employees grew to 320. In 1963, the company saw further growth resulting in the construction of two new subsidiary factories known as Panelplast and Paneltone.
However, the economic downturn of the early 1970s presented issues for the plant and workers at the factory were issued with protective notice. Thereafter, the company took on significant debts and had to be rescued by a state agency. Staff numbers were cut and on April 21, 1980, the company went into receivership. The receiver’s goal was to sell the company to retain jobs but efforts to secure foreign investment failed.
A local consortium involving Ambrose McInerney, PJ McNamara, Michael Crichton, locals and factory workers came together and raised sufficient funds to get the State involved. Under a new agreement instigated by the then Minister for Industry and Energy, Des O’Malley, the State took over 63% of the company’s assets with private investors retaining the remaining equity.
In 1982, the new company Chipboard Products Limited was officially opened. This chapter in the plant’s history was shortlived as it only remained open for a year. Political instability had a knock-on effect for the factory and under the new Fine Gael Labour government, Chipboard Products Limited became one of its cost-saving measures. The State decided to close the plant putting almost 400 people out of employment and locals lost what they invested.
The closure was met with public outcry and a local action committee was formed that would take the local frustration to the doors of the Dáil. A fleet of buses brought locals to Dublin on November 21, 1983. Despite lengthy debates demanding reasons for closing a viable company, the government refused to reopen the plant.
However, things improved in 1984 as Financiera Maderera SA, the operators of the current plant, secured the assets of Chipboard Products Ltd. Since then, Finsa has continued the legacy of chipboard manufacturing in East Clare region.