The livestock mart must remain at the very heart of Irish rural society

Enjoying a day out at the mart is a quintessentially Irish thing to do. It’s on a par with supporting the local football or hurling team on a Sunday afternoon.

Recent weeks have seen a lot written about safety standards at our marts. And this is only natural, given the accident that befell a man at Mohill mart a number of weeks ago.

It goes without saying that marts must be totally safe places – both for the animals being sold and the people who frequent these locations.

But we must never lose sight of the fact that marts play a crucial role at the very heart of Irish rural society.

For many farmers mart day still represents an opportunity to meet friends and to catch up on local news.

It should also be pointed out that, particularly for many older farmers living on their own, a visit to the mart is, possibly, the only day in the week when they can enjoy a well-cooked meal, courtesy of what’s available in the canteen.

Bringing a son or daughter to the mart on the odd occasion is also a tradition within many Irish farming families.

For the young people involved such visits provide an opportunity to see many different types of cattle and sheep. They can also get an idea of what constitutes a high-quality or mediocre beast.

I firmly believe it should be possible to maintain all of these every positive attributes that are associated with marts up and down the country, while fully meeting the health and safety needs of everyone involved.

This latter requirement can be achieved very easily. In the first instance, marts should operate a strict timing policy when it comes to accepting stock. Farmers arriving with their trailers beyond an agreed time should not be allowed to offload.

In tandem with this there should also be strict timing periods implemented by mart officials, when it comes to the viewing of stock.

Once the sale starts, all members of the general public should be banned from the lairage area. It’s up to the mart staff to ensure that stock leaving the premises are taken to the relevant exit points.

One thing that must be looked at by mart operators is the suitability of their penning areas for the stock they are selling.

Everything must be done to put animals at their ease as they wait to be brought into the sale ring. For their part the meat plants have done a tremendous job in re-designing their lairages in order to meet this need. I think it’s time the marts followed suit.