Kildare school uniforms business hits back at Minister’s criticism

A Monasterevin school uniform manufacturer has said that claims made recently by Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn could hurt its business.

A Monasterevin school uniform manufacturer has said that claims made recently by Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn could hurt its business.

The Minister told the Dail a fortnight ago that school uniforms are often not manufactured in this country.

During the same discussion, Sinn Fein education spokesman Sean Crowe called the price of school uniforms “a racket”.

Arthur’s Court Ireland, which is based at Cowpasture in Monasterevin, is one of several Midlands-based uniform manufacturers. Its sales director Mark Williams last week expressed his disappointment to the Minister’s comments, and invited him to visit the Monasterevin factory, which employs 35 people.

“I don’t know where the [Minister’s] comments came from,” said Mr Williams, calling them “misinformed”. “We would give an open-handed welcome to the Minister, to show him how hard we are working here, and how hard everyone works to make the company succeed.”

Mr Williams believes that the Minister’s remarks could hurt the Kildare company’s business. Set up in 1989, it manufactures all its own knitwear in Monasterevin and works with other Irish contractors to create pinafores, skirts, trousers, tracksuits and school crests.

Arthur’s Court makes around 100,000 school jumpers for primary and secondary schools per year. It sells locally and also supplies a network of retail outlets, branding its garments as Irish-produced.

“We put up ‘Irish made’ signs over our jumpers, and then the customer says to us they have heard they are not made in Irleand. And the workers here feel let down, I would say, by the Minister.

“That is why we have sent him an invite to come here and talk to us.”

Mr Williams also hit out at the criticism of the costs of school uniforms. “In our outlets in Monasterevin, Clonmel and Kilkenny, our jumpers start at 13.50, and a crested jumper at E15.50.

“If anyone thinks they are overpaying for a school jumper, contact us and we will find them a retailer that will sell them an Irish-made uniform at a very reasonable price.”

Arthur’s Court has had support in its stance from local TDs including the Kildare South deputies Jack Wall and Sean O’Fearghail.

Deputy O’Fearghail urged parents to buy Irish when purchasing uniforms. “Given that there are jobs being supported in the local manufacture of uniforms in Kildare I would urge parents, as far as is possible, to buy Irish,” he said.

- Laura Coates