Lay of the Land: Home versus a fearsome fate on foreign shores
My late brother's friend Finbarr talks with yearning about moving home from Western Australia. Who could blame him, especially this early summer, with lush, green pastures full of bovine babies, some no bigger than a dog, grazing alongside their mothers?
But there are also fields of unaccompanied calves, an unnatural and sad sight, although their time as orphans in their homeland is all too brief. For the IFA has reportedly "worked hard to drive a strong calf export trade" and are pushing "to develop new markets", such as Turkey, where this month more than 3,000 young bulls depart for "finishing" on local farms.
Which is why this vegetarian finds herself in the surreal position of feeling relief when the slaughter trucks that pass through this country town turn left up the road. That means they are heading to the local abattoir, hopefully for a quick and humane end.Whereas my heart sinks when trucks go straight towards Waterford, to be shipped to places where animal welfare is an alien concept.
Live exports also leave from Western Australia, where Finbarr says they have moved the ships further from port because the animals are so terrified.
It was the same decades ago. An octogenarian remembers how "the crafty Freo dockers trained a goat to walk bravely to the top of the gangway - where Nanny/Billy would smartly step aside, while their cousinly ruminants scooted on towards doom. The name given to the decoy beastie? The Judas goat."
For the betrayal of these gentle bovines is why an emotional debate about live exports has long waged in Western Australia. Like our agricultural minister, politicians there have seen the videos emerging as recently as last month revealing the immense suffering - such as images of animals starving and dehydrated; or cattle hoisted by one hind leg and spun on a chain as a man slashes with a knife at their necks.
So let us remind ourselves of the reality behind live exports: it means shipping live animals to where the only people bearing witness to what happens to them are reputable animal protection groups. These organisations stress that they are not trying to stop the export of food - but believe is entirely unnecessary for the animals to be transported while still alive.
"If it was replaced by a trade in meat and carcasses, then the animals would be slaughtered under EU laws designed to protect them from the worst kind of suffering," says Peter Stevenson of Compassion in World Farming.
This is not some sentimental sideshow. Meat eaters must show mercy and demand limits on the atrocities inflicted on Irish animals by processors and exporters - even if that means killing them with kindness where they were born, rather than abandoning them to a faraway and fearsome fate.
All the evidence about the evils of live exports brings the need for such compassion home.