By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — A threatened drought of stout has been deferred but a strike at the ESB could mean power cuts if it goes ahead on Monday, April 23.
For the first time since 1974, Guinness shut down its brewing operations in Ireland last week after five of its unions went on strike about a decision to close a packaging plant in Dundalk.
The strike action was suspended after day-long talks involving the Labor Relations Commission led to a decision to defer the closure pending further negotiations.
The strike would have cost the company an estimated £15 million a week and spokesman Pat Barry said if it was to continue it would call into question the future of some of their brewing operations in Ireland.
The unions claim the parent company, Diageo, has little loyalty to its Irish operations despite the fact that Guinness is known worldwide as an Irish brand name.
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The action by the 1,100 workers would have seriously affected supplies of Guinness, Smithwicks, Harp, Carlsberg and Budweiser, which were likely to run out in days.
About half the Irish production is exported to America and continental European countries.
The SIPTU, ATGWU, TEEU, ‘EU and UCATT unions fear the Dundalk move is part of a strategy that will see other plants scaled down or closed.
The biggest union, SIPTU, said it "believed the closure is just the tip of the iceberg in relation to the company’s plans for all operations in Ireland."
Barry said there was overcapacity in their packaging operations and costs were higher in the 150-job Dundalk operation than in packaging plants in Belfast and Liverpool.
Dundalk has been involved in the beer business since 1707. The area has been badly hit by plant closures and the foot-and-mouth crisis centered on the nearby Cooley Peninsula.
The strike threat for a 28 percent pay rise in the ESB comes as the company gears up for competition and plans to shed thousands of jobs.
If it results in power cuts for over 1.5 million ESB customers, the strike could seriously damage industrial production.