Meath TDs Johnny Guirke and Darren O'Rourke with Cllr Michael Gallagher and workers at the Smurfit Kappa plant at a demonstration in June. Photo: Seamus Farrelly

Shock as closure of Kells printing plant announced

Almost 60 workers in company bought by News Corp company in June

Just two months after its acquisition of the Smurfit Kappa News Print Press in Kells, News UK and Ireland Limited is to close the print plant which employs 59 workers.

In a devastating blow, the parent company, part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, made the announcement on Monday night, just over two months after closing the deal on acquiring the company on 25th June last.

Announcing the deal to buy the plant in May, News UK & Ireland Ltd said that agreement had been reached with Smurfit Kappa to acquire full ownership of the Smurfit Kappa News Press (SKNP) print business based at Kells.

At the time, a spokesperson for News UK & Ireland Ltd said: "We have enjoyed a successful relationship with Smurfit Kappa for over 20 years and, with the current print contract entering its final phase, this agreement provides the opportunity for News UK & Ireland to secure its longer-term printing arrangements and route to market in Ireland."

However, this announcement immediately led to worker concerns for their jobs, and a protest outside the factory seeking to ensure their employment terms and conditions would be honoured.

On Monday night, a statement was issued through a PR company saying: “Following an extensive review of the News Press Ireland Limited (NPIL) print business based at Kells, News UK & Ireland has regretfully concluded that it proposes to close the plant and outsource printing to other third-party print sites in Ireland. This proposal is subject to consultation and the company will be engaging with the staff and Union as appropriate. This development will have no impact on the publication of News Ireland’s news brands.

A spokesperson for News UK & Ireland Ltd continued: “News UK & Ireland Limited will continue to invest in our quality journalism and serving our readers. Although this was a difficult conclusion to reach, we believe it provides the most viable and sustainable long-term solution for the printing business. We wish to thank the News Press Ireland staff in Kells for their continued cooperation and understanding, and we are committed to offering every possible support as we undertake the staff consultation process.”

It is understood that there are 59 staff at the facility. A 30-day consultation process with employee representatives begin today (Wednesday), with all final decisions remain subject to this consultation.

SIPTU Organiser, Teresa Thompson, said: "The announcement that News UK & Ireland Ltd intends to close its printing plant in Kells has deeply shocked the more than 50 SIPTU members employed at the facility and their families. These workers have continued to work throughout the pandemic and were actively engaged in a review of operations at the plant.

She added: "SIPTU representatives will be seeking immediate engagement on issues affecting our members. This will include examination of the proposal to close the plant and if this is to proceed ensuring that any associated redundancy packages are reflective of the appropriate Labour Court recommendations."

SIPTU Shop Steward, Tony Kelly, said: "Myself and my colleagues are deeply saddened and disappointed by the announcement that the company intends to cease printing at the plant. It has left our families and the local community extremely concerned about the future. The SIPTU Committee at the plant is now eager to commence engagement with management to ensure that if the plant is to close the redundancy terms of workers are fair and correspond with existing recommendations."

Meath East TD, Darren O’Rourke, who had supported the workers at their demonstration in June, said today: "News of this imminent closure is very, very disappointing for the local economy in Kells and the wider region, but most particularly for the workers involved and their families. I want to send my solidarity to them at this uncertain time. It is absolutely essential, in the short time ahead, that News UK & Ireland engage in good faith with this dedicated group of workers and their representatives and honour long-standing agreements."

News UK & Ireland already owned the site of the Kells plant, which was leased to Smurfit Kappa News Press (SKNP) as part of a long term printing agreement. The plant has been in operation for over 20 years and prints the Irish edition of The Sun, The Sunday Times, Daily Mail and Financial Times. News Corp, of which News UK & Ireland Ltd is a subsidiary, has owned the premises for some time but the Rupert Murdoch owned company only took over the operation of the printing press and the employment of staff from SKNP in June. That sale was investigated and approved by the State regulator, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission.