‘Future for some marts in areas of poor broadband is extremely grim’ under Level 5

Independent TD Marian Harkin is calling for solutions to be found for marts with poor broadband, due to their “grim” fate under Level 5 restrictions that will come into force at midnight.

Deputy Harkin has written to the Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue, Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and leader of the Green Party Eamon Ryan, outlining the “hugely significant challenges” that will be faced by buyers, sellers and marts.

“I have spoken to a number of mart managers and many farmers, who are especially concerned about very poor broadband coverage around certain marts, particularly in the west of Ireland. Also, some farmers are not at ease with the technology needed to participate in online sales,” the Sligo-Leitrim TD said. 

“This means that access to online sales is limited or, in some cases, impossible; this is happening at a time when the weanling trade is just swinging into action.

The future for some marts and farmers who are selling stock right now, especially in areas of poor broadband coverage, is extremely grim due to the Level 5 restrictions. 

“This is the busiest time of the year in many marts in the west and north-west of Ireland when weanlings are sold onto finishers, many of whom come from outside the region. 

“Many rural towns partly rely on the mart as a source of revenue for local businesses and if marts are unable to operate sustainably, it will be the death knell for some of those towns, as well as a severe blow to cattle and sheep production locally.”

‘I think there can be workable and safe solutions’

Deputy Harkin feels that there can be workable and safe solutions found, with rigidly applied physical distancing and mask-wearing.

“There is also the option to temporarily erect cubicles around the ring to further enhance safety measures – marts are willing to do whatever is necessary to ensure a viable continuation of the trade,” she continued.

The Minister for Agriculture needs to pay special attention to marts with poor broadband coverage and propose immediate solutions.

“Farming, like other sectors, has had to deal with the impact of Covid-19; it is, at best, facing real trade dislocation due to Brexit and now, in certain parts of the country, farmers are facing lost sales, lost opportunities to buy, and maybe the loss of a local mart due to trading difficulties.”