Sinn Féin’s Matt Carthy has criticised the ongoing delays with the establishment of a food ombudsman or meat regulator saying that Minister Charlie McConalogue “has effectively given processors a transition period to continue exploiting farmers”.

The Cavan-Monaghan TD was speaking in response to a parliamentary question which indicated staffing levels at the Unfair Trading Practices Unit within the Department of Agriculture had reduced from a full-time equivalent of three to two staff members since it was created in May. 

The response also revealed that the enforcement authority has received no complaints and has spent none of its €1 million allocation, other than on salaries.

Deputy Carthy said:

“By implementing the Unfair Trading Practices through statutory instrument rather than legislation, Minister McConalogue took the most minimalist approach available to him,” the deputy said.

“At that time, a unit with three members of staff was created in the Department of Agriculture, with assurance on a head and others being assigned.

“The minister also assured us at the time that he hoped legislation would be finalised by the end of the year.

“This week, in response to parliamentary questions, it has been revealed that the same unit now has just two members of staff with a promise of ‘further resources’. 

“The updated autumn legislative agenda also indicates that legislation to establish a full enforcement authority is at an incredibly early stage, with no specifics in terms of timeframe.”

‘Only excuse’ for food ombudsman delay ‘is lack of political will’

The deputy said that it “is not surprising” that the unit has “apparently not received a single complaint” given that they haven’t even embarked on an information campaign.

“The only excuse for delay is a lack of political will. The minister has effectively given processors a transition period to continue exploiting farmers,” he said.

The deputy added that he “remains committed to the establishment of an independent meat regulator to tackle unfair trading practices and cartel-like practices in the sector”.

“I will continue to press the minister to deliver this in order to end the unfair market conditions in which our farmers have been expected to operate in for too long.”