HOLLY Cairns, Social Democrats spokesperson for agriculture, has described as ‘ridiculous’ a suggestion that she didn’t have farmers’ livelihoods in mind when she once again called for a beef taskforce to be set up.
Speaking earlier this week, she said the country is paying a high price for the failure of the government to regulate the meat industry and called for an immediate plan to be put in place to prevent further Covid-19 outbreaks within the sector.
‘This crisis speaks volumes about the powerful interests that control the meat processing industry and raises questions about some of their political connections,’ she said.
‘For some time I have been calling for the establishment of a taskforce for the industry to examine issues within the sector. These include poor working conditions, lack of sick pay and high-risk accommodation and transport arrangements, all of which create conditions where the virus can thrive,’ she said.
However, West Cork ICMSA chair Eileen Calnan described as ‘perhaps a little unfortunate’ that the deputy had not included ‘years and years of systematic underpaying of farmers in her list of accusations against those same “powerful interests”.’
She continued: ‘Of course, Cork ICMSA agrees with Deputy Cairns that it’s long past the time when we should have confronted the “powerful interests” that control Irish meat processing.
‘It’s just that we couldn’t help notice that in the list of things that Deputy Cairns wants a taskforce to be set up to investigate, there’s not a mention anywhere of the shamefully low prices that these “powerful interests” pay the farmers and which have run the whole sector down to its present miserable condition … I struggle to understand the idea of a beef taskforce that wouldn’t concern itself with the core issue which is the complete control of the beef sector that these beef factories have been allowed exert – chiefly at the expense of their farmers supplying the beef.
‘Those farmers – and there are very many of them in Deputy Cairns’ constituency – will be able to explain that the “powerful interests” have been getting away with it for a very, very long time, but nobody seemed that bothered because the only people being disadvantaged were the farmers.
‘Now the rest of society is getting a glimpse of the attitude that farmers have been on the receiving end of for years with very little protest from anybody, certainly not politicians,’ said Ms Calnan.
Deputy Cairns said she was ‘surprised’ at Ms Calnan’s comments and said she had raised the issues she spoke of, time and time again, including in the Dáil.
‘There’s no need for it,’ she said.
‘We’re on the same side. We agree on lots of things and it makes sense for us to work together.’
Emphasising that she comes from a beef farm herself, she added: ‘As if I’d get into politics to decimate the livelihoods of my family and neighbours?’
This is not the first time that Ms Calnan, a Clonakilty farmer, has taken Deputy Cairns to task on her comments.
Earlier this year, Ms Calnan said she was ‘somewhat taken aback’ by what she called Deputy Cairn’s ‘lukewarm and half-hearted’ support of the local dairy sector in a recent interview on RTE Radio 1’s Countrywide.
She said: ‘I do think that Deputy Cairns has a genuine interest in Cork farming, but I’d ask her to concentrate a little more on ensuring that they get a decent margin on what they produce – and a little less on airy-fairy criticism of important export sectors that are disproportionately important, precisely because local farmers can’t get decent margins through domestic supply-chains.’ In response, Deputy Cairns replied that as farmers, herself and Ms Calnan had more in common than they had to differ on.