At a meeting with the Taoiseach last Thursday, the President of the ICMSA, the state’s specialist dairy farmers’ organisation, John Comer, told Mr Kenny that resentment and frustration is building within the farming community at the Government’s refusal to deal with the powerful vested interests who seem to able to control the food sector to their own benefit and fix prices ‘backwards’ to the producers and ‘forwards’ to the consumers without any meaningful interference by Government. Mr Comer said that the relentless ‘talking up’ of our farming and food sectors belied a reality where schemes like the new agri-environment scheme GLAS are running way behind schedule while numerous threats like the Mercosur talks and post-quota volatility are being left unaddressed. The ICMSA President told Mr Kenny that the popular opinion expressed in the recent elections – and acknowledged by the Government – of a serious disconnect around the perceived unwillingness to confront and reform the most powerful entrenched interests was rampant in the farming community, where decades of evidence that gigantic international retailers and powerful meat processors were abusing their dominant positions had been completely ignored while what Mr Comer called “an avalanche” of regulation was loaded onto family farms and small food producers.
Mr Comer said the current beef crisis was a perfect example of this frustrating inaction where ICMSA now estimated that farmers had lost €106 million so far this year compared to the same period of last year at a time when beef retail prices had remained more or less constant. “What happened that money? Where has that €106 million gone? Everyone knows the answer but all we get from Government is a shrug of the shoulders and some aspirational chat about a code of conduct that we already know won’t work before it’s even been introduced. This is what absolutely infuriates people: there always seems to be a reason why nothing can be done about the ‘big boys’ while regulation is heaped up on the rest of us with compliance – and often retrospective compliance, as in the case of the mapping issues -demanded on pain of financial punitive financial penalties”, told this paper after the meeting.
“The recent elections showed the Government that people want real action and real reform and they want – and are entitled to – the protection of the state where dominant vested interest is abusing their power. Government cannot be an interested spectator in these matters; it has to get on the pitch and ensure fair play for all. That’s certainly not the perception at present in the farming community and that’s a real – and growing – problem for the Government. People are sick and tired of always hearing why something can’t be done about the really powerful players; they’ve run out of patience. I know farmers certainly have.”
John Comer, 087-2057846
Cathal MacCarthy, 087-6168758
ICMSA Press Office