Emigrants home for Christmas have long since left, but this year will see the departure of more Irish people. Most can look forward to a good life abroad. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for Irish cattle, now live exports to non-EU countries look set to resume.
The prospect is hailed as fantastic news. The economy will benefit from a lucrative deal with the Middle East, now that Egypt, Libya and Lebanon look likely to permit live cattle imports. They're also seen as a solution to the thousands of surplus cattle from the dairy herd, caused by the decision to double Ireland's milk production. And they will relieve tensions between farmers and beef processors.
Everyone benefits – except the poor animals. For while profit margins conveniently reduce cattle to mere commodities, the fact is that they are sentient beings. Like us, they can experience fear and pain.
Live exports to non-EU countries stopped in the mid-Nineties because of the BSE scare. That scare is gone, but we face a greater one if we abandon these creatures to unspeakable suffering. For it means money matters more to us than the inherent immorality of such trade.
The International Animal Health Organisation (OIE) has drawn up guidelines for the protection of animals during transport and at slaughter. But many OIE member countries, including some in North Africa and the Middle East, fail to implement them.
Compassion in World Farming has ample evidence of the appalling problems for animals – in particular, slaughter conditions – in many of these countries.
Apart from the horrific journey, film footage from slaughterhouses in Egypt shows workers killing fully conscious cattle by stabbing a knife into the animal's neck several times, instead of a full cut across the throat. A rope is then tied round the neck, which appears to cause suffocation. The cattle take about 10 minutes to die.
There is also footage of cattle being beaten hard on the head with a large metal pole, often taking several blows before the animal falls to the ground, where its throat is then cut.
Until these animals can be guaranteed the basic protection of standards laid down in OIE guidelines, live exports to these countries should not be resumed.
Besides, Meat Industry Ireland has said that "every 100,000 animals going out as live exports is the equivalent of two meat plants and 400 or 500 jobs". Yet Simon Coveney has said that "suitable ships" will be approved next month.
We may export people by planes these days, but coffin ships are clearly still in use.