Track 1: Michael Davitt is from the Navan Road in Dublin, and he explains that he graduated with a degree in Engineering from UCD in 1957. Both his parents were teachers, from Kildare. As there was high unemployment in Ireland when he graduated, and he wished to get experience, he worked for a short while at Rolls Royce in England, and later in the USA for a few years with Westinghouse, designing electrical motors and generators. He also studied for a business degree while abroad. Once his studies were complete, he returned to Ireland in 1962 with his wife Philomena Nugent, from Delvin, Co. Westmeath. He succeeded in getting a post at Shannon Diamond and Carbide, but was then offered a job by Dr Bert Cusack at Clondalkin Paper Mills. He explains that Dr Cusack had been involved with restarting the paper mills in 1936, and he describes him as being a man of strong character with tremendous determination to move the company forward. Michael’s role initially entailed the construction of a major extension, called a salle, for sorting paper. At that time the mills at Swiftbrook and Drimnagh had been bought for their goodwill, and the workforce at both mills was incorporated into the Clondalkin mills. The extension occupied the ground where Dunnes Stores now operates.
Track 2: Michael talks about the expansion of Clondalkin village and describes his memories of it as a quiet rural area when he began work there. He discusses the location of the paper mills on the River Camac and the justification for this. The problems associated with the businesses along the river, particularly in relation to effluent, are recalled. He remembers the generations who worked at the paper mills. His boss was Terence O’Neill, the chief engineer, and Michael says that he learned a lot from him. He recalls the paper mills as being a happy place to work and he says that he missed this experience when he moved elsewhere. He worked at the mills for two years before joining a UK-based management consultancy company, from which he received training. His job involved travelling around Ireland to various companies, and he then rejoined Clondalkin Paper Mills in 1970, remaining there until 1977. At this time, the company was called the Clondalkin Group, incorporating Bailey Gibson, Guy and Company in Cork and Cahills, and he describes the business at this point as being more progressive and more profitable. Dr Cusack was still Managing Director, and as an engineer, he naturally leaned towards the technical side of the business. The militant element in the workforce at the paper mills is recalled. Michael was part of the management structure and he explains that he had to work to achieve the management objectives. He considers that there was an unwillingness to change which was in conflict with the efforts of the technical staff who were continually trying to introduce new practices so as to bring about improvement. He recalls that the mills had begun with the government introduction of tariffs on imports in the 1930s, and this changed with the abolition of tariffs and the signing of a free trade agreement between Ireland and the UK, when both countries joined the EEC in 1973.
Track 3: In about 1977 Michael left Clondalkin Paper Mills. He had noticed the difference in the modernised and upgraded office block, and more modern machinery, when he returned to the business in 1970. Dr Cusack put much effort in upgrading the machinery, he says, and also remarks that during the two shutdown periods during the year, machinery was maintained and upgraded all the time. Due to open competition in the 1970s, there was a constant push to improve the process at the mills in order to meet the quality standards of the export customers. He recalls his surprise, on his return from the USA, that he was expected to work at least six days at week, and sometimes seven. His work was mainly concerned with industrial engineering and the manufacturing process which was continually assessed and monitored. He describes his work as challenging, and explains that when changes were suggested, often heated and robust exchanges of views occurred. However, Dr Cusack repeatedly stressed that improvements had to be made, otherwise the operation would not survive because of far more efficient mills in Scandinavia. As Michael points out, the economy of scale in Clondalkin meant that this competition was difficult, and it was a constant struggle to achieve margins in the paper industry at that time. The customers of the mills were those who used paper as part of their manufacturing and printing processes. One of the machines made kraft (brown) paper used generally for packaging. The other machines manufactured white papers such as writing paper like Swiftbrook Bond. These finer grades of paper required a high degree of expertise and close control of the manufacturing operation. In general, newsprint was sourced from Scandinavia at a competitive price. Michael left the company to pursue opportunities with a management consultancy based in Dublin, where one of his clients was the Clondalkin Group after manufacturing had ceased. He was asked by the Department of Industry and Commerce to advise on locating an operator for the premises. At this point in the recording, Tommy Keogh interjects with information about the Gregory Deal, which was struck at the time between the late Tony Gregory TD and Charles J. Haughey, in order to form a coalition government. Michael believes that he was brought in in a caretaking capacity, and on his own initiative and expense he travelled to Canada to visit a prospective buyer. On his return, he reported his view that the proposed deal was not workable. However, the sale went through but the business lasted only about 18 months. At that point, he was brought back to shut down the premises after the operator had left. The late Jim Mansfield acquired the machinery and sold it abroad at what Michael remembers as being a traumatic time. In his view, the location of the paper mills, by that stage, was not ideal, as it should have been located closer to the raw materials required, and not in an urban area.