‘Mart masks need to be accompanied by ramped up sanitising’

With the wearing of face masks mandatory in all marts from Monday, August 24, Eimear McGuinness, who chairs the Mart Managers of Ireland (MMI), said that it is imperative that social distancing is adhered to and that sanitising in marts is ramped up.

The introduction of restrictions due to Covid-19 had gone relatively smoothly, she said.

“Extra staff is a must now to keep a check everywhere and to staff at entrances and give instructions. I also did Facebook videos and instructions prior to sales so a lot of people knew what to expect when arriving at the mart,” said Eimear, who is manager of Donegal Co-Op livestock mart.

Naturally, it is a full-time job keeping purchasers who wish to speak to each other apart at the ringside but I think everyone is getting used to it now.

“We did have the odd day where farmers turned up at the mart wanting to get in to watch the sale and if our numbers were to capacity, we had to refuse or ask them to wait until someone else left the building.

“This is not a nice job having to do this but I think all farmers understand. We try to make sure that anyone at ringside is an active purchaser or potential one.

“From the start of Covid-19 and the new regulations in marts, we have always followed the department of agriculture’s advice on measures to be taken. It has been very helpful all through and its advice now is to wear masks. We will take this on board and carry it out.

“However, if you were to ask me will I feel any safer in the mart wearing masks, I would have to say no. Marts in general are big airy sheds or buildings. We are limited to the numbers we are allowed enter into the sales rings so everyone is well spread out.

“I have to say that the measures we had already in place I felt were ample. I felt very safe in my work environment,” said Eimear.

‘Safe an environment as possible’

It’s imperative over the next number of weeks that mart managers ensure that social distancing is adhered to and sanitising in marts is boosted, she contended.

“We all must do what we can to make sure that sales can go ahead in as safe an environment as possible and I think we have all managed to find a system to allow that to happen over the last few months.

“Thankfully most marts have embraced online selling, so farmers who normally would have been onlookers in the ring, can now do this at home.

Sellers who do not wish to attend can watch their stock being sold. Buyers can also view cattle and sheep prior to sale and then bid for the lots they desire. This tool has allowed managers to keep numbers of people to a minimum in marts.

Children can no longer attend marts, she said.

“I have had a few occasions where kids have turned up. They are strictly not allowed entry. One father had his two sons with him when he came to sell his cattle and the older son sat in the car with the smaller child until the animals were sold and dad returned.

“On all other occasions the dads took them home. It’s not a regular occurrence thankfully.”

A key issue, she said, is the loss of revenue from when marts were closed. “We need direct supports from the government. Costs have not reduced but only increased.”