Asahi started operating in Killala in 1977, but in August 1983 it made national headlines with the decision to close down its operations in Ireland. This quickened the debate in Ireland over government industrial policy and raised nationally the debate about multinational investment.
By this time, in Killala, dependency on a single employer who made decisions in Tokyo based on the European market, had been recognised as potentially hazardous to the community. In the mid-1980s Killala Community Council, in common with many small area-based groups, actively sought development of small businesses, preferably with some indigenous base of personnel, raw materials, product or market. Developments included a small precision engineering firm set up by a returned emigrant with financial help generated through the Community Council and with the support of Asahi itself.
The former Asahi spinning plant, July 2015
The Asahi plant eventually closed in 1997, with the loss of over 300 jobs. The closure was attributed to the combination of intensifying competition, steeply rising raw materials costs, and unstable European currencies. However, while the Asahi dream may not have been wholly realised, it played a major role in regenerating the local community which seemed, sixty five years ago to be dying. The Asahi site remained as an important part in the synthesis of the next layer of the uniqueness of Killala.
1997-2015 The impact of the closure of Asahi
In 2015 Philip O’Sullivan, geography staff tutor with The Open University in Ireland interviewed Justin Sammon, CEO of Mayo North East, the local LEADER Company involved in rural community development. In this audio clip Justin describes how the closure of the Asahi plant had a devastating effect on the local community and left ‘a huge vacuum’ in the area. He also identifies the need for a different model of industrial development for rural areas.
Transcript: The impact of the closure of Asahi
... I can guess obviously that this had a big impact when the plant finally closed down but maybe you could talk about that a little, just the impact since it closed.
Nothing has replaced it, that model of development has vanished so a lot of the people have left, emigration starts again. It affected a whole hinterland, the whole of Mayo, not just Kilalla which happened to be the centre, but the employment was lost to the area and the spending power for support towns lost as well. There are a few organisations surviving, like Kilalla Precision Engineering that sought other outlets, but by and large it was a fierce blow and I suppose it is one of the warnings of foreign direct investment, that a plant on that scale is great while it is there but if it goes it leaves a huge vacuum, whereas if there were several smaller plants and one or two go it wouldn’t have the biggest impact.
A different kind of interdependence
The interdependence which evolved between Japan, home of Asahi’s parent company, and Killala was, by its nature unequal. However, some of the spin-off support industries, such as Killala Precision Engineering, have outlived the Asahi plant and, as Justin Sammon notes in this audio clip, retain links with Japan by exporting their products there. A different kind of interdependence can be seen in that ‘Japan came to Killala and now Killala is exporting to Japan’.
Transcript: A different kind of interdependence between Killala and Japan
It was an extraordinary event and it also spawned support industries, for instance, Killala Precision Engineering, which is still going with about a hundred people, came out of that. It supplied bolts and nuts to the factory. Asahi was buying them abroad and the local community development leader, Sean Hannick, who was the leading light in the community, was persuaded by the Japanese to open a factory himself and that is still going.
So, if you forgive the pun, a spin off was a local, small local manufacturing company making equipment and things for the plant?
And it still exports to Japan now which is interesting.
So that goes back, Japan came to Killala and Killala is exporting to Japan. But the main plant itself you said closed down.
Now move on to Killala in 2015.
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See all the series in the Change in the West of Ireland collection
This article is part of a collection on the 'Uniqueness, Interdependence, Uneven Development and Change in the West of Ireland'. To find out more about the collection, a good place to start is the introduction, Change in the West of Ireland.