In looking at the effects of the arrival of Asahi into the Killala area, perhaps the first and most obvious was the visual impact of the plant. It was extensive rather than towering and the effect lay with the incongruity of a large industrial plant in a remote rural area.
Jobs or the environment?
Aside from the impact on the scenery and the effects of such a massive construction on the immediate habitat, concern was voiced at the planning stage about two issues: the transportation of chemicals (nitriles) by train across Ireland from Dublin docks to Mayo; and the intention to pump effluent into Killala Bay. There seems to have been a marked difference in points of view around these issues. The environmental anxieties were largely expressed in Dublin (by middle-class people who had jobs) and were anxiously played down in Killala by people who desperately wanted to attract jobs.
By 1985 there had been no disaster arising from transporting the chemicals across the country. In addition, the fears about effluent were dismissed by the Community Council because, in response to early expressions of concern, the company installed an extra filtration plant which lowered the concentration of nitriles to below the statutory limits for Ireland and the EU. However, it was suggested that one of the reasons why companies like Asahi located in Ireland was the relatively low level of environmental protection legislation.
In addition to these major issues, in the period since Asahi began production and therefore created jobs, there were various environmental improvements in Killala; for example, construction of a town park and improvements to the facades of buildings, which perhaps reflected increased affluence and confidence, and formed a strand in the complex web of the social effects of change.
In the 1980s different perspectives existed at national and local levels about environmental risks. There seemed to be a local concern with jobs and at national level a concern over environmental issues. In the times of high unemployment of the 1980s it was quite possible for companies to gain advantages from one potential location as against another. Potential employees and others in the area who stood to benefit would accept conditions and risks which in other circumstances they might not. The environmental risk seemed worth the jobs when viewed from Killala: it looked different from a wider, more distant view.
Changing attitudes to environmental risks
It is interesting to compare this with local attitudes in Killala to environmental risk twenty years later. The Irish Times (Nov 3, 2004) reported that Irish Environmental Processes was to seek planning permission and licensing from the Environmental Protection Agency to set up a €10 million asbestos recycling plant, with a staff of 30, on part of the former Asahi plant. The strength of local opposition was shown by the 350 people who turned out for a public meeting in Killala, all of whom signed a petition opposing the project on health and environmental grounds. In addition there was an ecumenical prayer service on December 6 organised by the North West Alliance Against Asbestos (NWAAA) to which 70 local parishes were invited. An advertisement invited people to follow this by joining ‘a candlelight procession of the children of the North West and their families, through a darkened village to Killala Pier. There, the people of the North West will share a verse of' The West's Awake', before sending 30 candle lights out to sea to represent the 30 dirty jobs being offered’.
Read the Castlebar News article.
Nobertune, which had acquired the former Asahi plant, acknowledged the considerable local opposition and, in May 2005, confirmed to members of the North West Alliance Against Asbestos (NWAAA) that it would not be proceeding with the sale of the site to Irish Environmental Processes Ltd (IEP).
Looking at previous pages about Asahi in Killala, list all of the local, regional, national and international decision-makers who were involved in some way in the Asahi project. Note what this tells us about interdependence.
Now move on to The social impact of Asahi on Killala in the 1980s and 1990s.
See all the articles in this series
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.