Farmers protesting over poor prices for their produce from the factories and supermarkets have got more moral support in Laois this week.
A motion before the December meeting of Laois County Council saw local elected representatives rally behind the farmers in their campaign for a fairer deal.
A cheap food policy, the profiteering of the larger supermarket chains and the excessive control of the meat industry by Larry Goodman and the beef factories were all blamed as the reasons for the current precarious plight of beef farmers.
But the issue wasn’t without its edge, as there was also some political cross-fire, sharp exchanges and tetchiness, despite the season of goodwill.
There was definitely a political tension in the chamber, perhaps indicative that the scrapping for political advantage in the lead in to the 2020 general election is already underway.
It was Cllr Tom Mulhall who raised the topic and who also got involved in some of the political verbals.
Between the factories and the supermarkets he said that they had farmers frustrated and squeezed to the point where they are losing money on their produce, with Irish beef farmers being paid the lowest rates in Europe.
He said that farmers are resilient and had proven this during the economic downturn but they invested their earnings back into their enterprise and our economy relied on farming to prosper.
“There was a time when a farm kept a family but now families are struggling to keep the farm and are propping up their outgoings with off-farm incomes.
“We lost our sugar beet industry in 2005 and the loss of our beef sector would be far bigger and far worse,” he maintained, adding that he hoped they didn’t just get the standard stock reply back from the Minister for Agriculture on the issue. He wanted to see action and intervention from the Minister.
Cllr Ollie Clooney was vocal in his robust support for calling on Ministerial action.
“It’s farmers who are paying for your special offers in the supermarkets,” he contended.
“This cheap food policy and profiteering of the supermarkets has farming destroyed for the small family farm and when the banks come calling they have no mercy, it’s very serious out there,” said Cllr Clooney.
“Larry Goodman and the factories have too much control, that’s the main problem and they have a lot to answer for,” contended Cllr John King, who referenced his knowledge of the meat industry from his days as a butcher. “What about the suckler man,” he asked before giving some insight into the various meat cuts and characteristics of the various breeds and beasts.
“What about the tillage man, they’re struggling as well,” suggested Cllr Paschal McEvoy, never one to give Cllr Mulhall his pound of flesh.
“I already mentioned tillage and the beet industry, sugar, do you understand where it comes from? Don’t get me started, you don’t know what you’re talking about,” retorted Cllr Mulhall, clearly riled up.
Cllr Ben Brennan joined the fray: “I blame the Government and the Minister, he hasn’t a clue. The factories are dictating the whole show, the Minister is not there. He probably thinks that milk comes from a bottle.”
“I’m a farmer born and reared and went through it all. I milked cows before you were around,” Cllr Mulhall defended his credentials. He apparently milked cows by hand and wasn’t giving any ground to his detractors or critics of his Ministerial colleague.
“You may go and advise the Minister so, you know it all,” Cllr Ben Brennan kept stirring it.
“Your husband is supposed to be the spokesman on Agriculture in the Dáil and you here with nothing to say on the issue,” Cllr Mulhall unwisely decided to open another front with a jibe at Cllr Caroline Dwane-Stanley.
“You don’t start me, you don’t. I don’t come here to speak for my husband,” glared Cllr Dwane, deciding to best leave it at that, despite the unnecessary dig at her husband Deputy Brian Stanley of Sinn Féin.
But Cllr Aidan Mullins decided he’d join the fray and lob one over on Cll Mulhall’s lap: “All you’re doing is writing another stupid letter to a Minister to get back another stupid answer.”
“This is worse than Ballymagash,” observed Cllr Paddy Bracken.
Under fire, Cllr Mulhall then turned on the Chair and complained to Cllr Willie Aird that he would be better off controlling the meeting.
So much for Christmas and the price of beef. Farmers everywhere impressed no doubt.