Dozens of jobs in counties Monaghan and Down are under threat as a result of a decision by dairy processing co-op, Lakeland Dairies, to close a number of its facilities.
In total around 78 jobs will be impacted by the changes, but it is understood that up to half of those workers could be redeployed to other parts of the business.
Lakeland Dairies liquid milk production plant in Coolshannagh in Co Monaghan is to shut in the first quarter of 2025.
This is the result of a plan to transfer liquid milk production from there to Lakeland Dairies in Killeshandra, Co Cavan and additional bulk milk handling activities to other sites.
Following the ending of production in Coolshannagh it is expected that the Monaghan site will be sold.
Currently it is understood that around 50 people are employed in the facility.
Separately, milk drying facilities at Lough Egish in Co Monaghan, where over 20 people work, are also to close in June of next year.
Instead, milk will continue to be processed at Lakeland Dairies Bailieboro, Killeshandra, Newtownards, Ballyrashane and Artigarvan.
However, the Lakeland Agri feed and inputs operation at the neighbouring Lough Egish feed mill will continue to grow and develop.
Another Lakeland Dairies site in Banbridge, Co Down, which has acted as a butter churning and packing and powder storage site, will also close in June 2024 and be sold.
Two employees work at that facility.
The co-op has begun a process of engagement and consultation with staff and unions about the potential for redundancies, with exact numbers to be confirmed at a later time.
"We do appreciate that this announcement creates uncertainty for our colleagues and their families," said Lakeland Dairies' Group chief executive officer, Colin Kelly.
"We will work closely with them and support them throughout this process in which they will continue to be treated fairly and with respect."
"While this is a difficult decision, it is a crucial one to ensure that Lakeland Dairies is future-proofed and well-positioned to meet the challenges as well as the opportunities of the future."
The organisation’s 1,300 remaining staff will not be directly impacted by the announcement.
The move is part of a new strategy that will see the business restructured to make it more efficient ahead of the next decade, which the co-op said will be different from the current one.
"The industry has come through a period of significant volume growth following the removal of milk quotas in 2015," said Mr Kelly.
"Lakeland Dairies invested over €350m to support the ambition of our farm families to produce this additional milk and meet the latent demand at farm level for expansion."
"The next decade will be less about large volume growth and more about value-added growth and adding capability throughout the business."
"This will be done to drive the best possible returns for our farmers and to continue to offer our loyal customers the highest-quality products while supporting our people and our communities."
As part of the changes, Lakeland will carry out a major development project at the Killeshandra site so that liquid milk can be processed there.
Currently the co-op processes around 2bn litres of milk produced by 3,200 farm families on both sides of the border.
Its products are used in over 100 global markets.
Supports for workers impacted by site closures
Minister for Social Protection, Heather Humphreys said supports will be put in place to assist workers impacted by today's decision.
"My thoughts, first and foremost, are with the workers at Lakeland Dairies and their families as they come to terms with this devastating news," she said in a statement.
"Lakeland Dairies is a very important employer in my own home County of Monaghan and throughout the border region.
"Any decision by such a company to make staff redundant is deeply disappointing," she added.
Minister Humphreys said social protection officials will engage directly with the company and ensure all available supports are put in place, including opportunities to retrain and reskill.
"Earlier today, I spoke to the CEO of Lakeland Dairies, Colin Kelly, and my officials will immediately make contact with the company to discuss what supports can be put in place," she added.
Sinn Féin TD for Cavan Monaghan, Matt Carthy described today's news as a "devastating blow" for the workers involved and the local economy.
"These are job losses that the local economy can ill-afford. Monaghan is highly dependent on the agri-food sector and this announcement will have a profound impact," he said.
Mr Carthy called for a swift Government response to ascertain whether the jobs and facilities can be saved.
"We need co-ordinated action to ensure that there are no further job losses in this sector," he said.
"I intend to work with all other elected voices in pursuit of these objectives."