‘Mart restrictions from those with no understanding’

Those who drew up the recommendations for the latest mart restrictions have no understanding of how marts operate, according to the chairperson of Mart Managers of Ireland (MMI), Eimear McGuinness.

“I have listened over the last day or two to some of our TDs try to speak to our Taoiseach on the matter and their valid points seem to go over his head simply because he has no understanding of our sector,” contended the manager of Donegal Livestock Mart.

“Over the last number of days, I have spoken to many politicians from all parties in an attempt to get these restrictions reviewed as they will have a detrimental effect on the trade of livestock but also the farming sector as a whole. I must also thank them all for their valiant efforts in doing so,” she said.

“I believe that the decision to close marts was based on the government treating every sector in a like manner, something which is very wrong. No two sectors operate the same,” she said, calling for greater understanding.

“Farming is deemed an essential service which includes marts and we are now in the peak of the autumn trade where farmers sell their weanlings and make their income.

While other sectors may close, employees in these sectors have the option to seek the Covid-19 support payments. Farmers, on the other hand, do not have that option. Just because their animals are sold in a bad trade or the marts are not operating, farmers get no compensation.

“My belief is that Donegal worked in level 3 and level 4 with marts operating with buyers at ringside at 2m social distancing and no sellers on-site. It worked perfectly well with limited people on-site and everyone was very safe,” she said.

“I explained all these details to our Minister for Agriculture [Charlie McConalogue], hoping that he would review the situation and fight our corner. However, the government seems to view the country with a one rule for all motto, neglecting the fact that it is now ignoring the government plan which it spent the last six months putting together.

“Was that very plan not supposed to allow people to carry on with normal life and work where possible while protecting the vulnerable?

Huge efforts

“Now the numbers have risen but I do not believe that marts are responsible for this. Marts have done very well over the past six months in their huge efforts to suppress this virus.

“The government over the years has left the west of Ireland without proper broadband services and now marts will suffer due to this. Marts, especially in west and north-west of Ireland, are being told to offer online sales only, but hence we have no broadband to run online sales only.

“If the government feels we should do this, let it install high speed broadband and online systems for all the marts in the country,” said Eimear.

“While an online system is a valuable tool in selling livestock as it gives additional customers a tool to bid and watch sales from home, in mart managers’ opinions, it cannot and will not work alone. We still need customers at the ring,” she said.

Last Friday I held a sale and was made very aware of how technology can let you down. Just as our sale was to start, the system crashed. After hours of waiting around, we decided to continue with pen and paper in the old fashioned way. If I had no customers on-site, we would have had to send all animals home. I am aware that this same situation has happened in several marts this week.

“We cannot and will not accept that marts cannot facilitate farmers at a time of the year when they need us most and our government and minister should not expect that either. We must protect our farmers who, quite frankly, get a raw deal most of the time,” Eimear said.

“On a personal level, I believe that everyone must play their part during this pandemic. The vulnerable and elderly must be protected and safeguarded but I also believe that we are ignoring a lot of other issues in doing so. Farmers’ mental health and financial statuses must be a priority for our sector. Otherwise we will all go very hungry without them.”