Farm Ireland

Sunday 18 February 2018

‘I’d go to jail in fight for potato cash’

Potato grower Paudge Howard, seen with his son, Ian, says he is prepared to go to jail to get the €27,000 owed to him by the company that went bust
Potato grower Paudge Howard, seen with his son, Ian, says he is prepared to go to jail to get the €27,000 owed to him by the company that went bust

Aideen Sheehan & Darragh McCullough

A farmer who is owed tens of thousands of euros for potatoes says he is ready to go to jail to get his money.

Paudge Howard, from Bellewstown in Co Meath, is one of 20 vegetable growers who have been left unpaid for their crops after the company they supplied went bust.

The farmers staged protests at branches of Ulster Bank last week because the bank is receiving what it's owed from the sale of the troubled company – yet the growers are €300,000 out of pocket because they're deemed to be bottom of the list for repayments.

A statement from the receiver Michael McAteer said that he had been appointed by Ulster Bank at the request of GVS Ltd when it realised it could no longer continue to trade.

This process had seen the transfer of all GVS assets and its 45 employees to another operator – Fyffes – with no redundancies. The receiver stated that he was not permitted to pay unsecured creditors, including the growers, before paying secured creditors such as the Revenue Commissioners.

Intensive meetings continued into the weekend between Ulster Bank officials and the IFA's top brass, including general secretary Pat Smith and deputy president Eddie Downey. They are aiming to get Ulster Bank and Fyffes to both contribute towards the outstanding amounts owed to the growers. Fyffes were themselves one of GVS’s biggest creditors at the time the company went into receivership.

The biggest problem according to Mr Howard, who is owed €27,000 by the company, is that Ulster Bank don't want to be seen to be giving in to the growers’ demands.

“This was a bum deal from the very beginning for us growers,” he said. “We have no idea what the company was sold for or whether a better deal could have been done that would have allowed the suppliers to get paid at least something for their produce.”

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Mr Howard said he did not accept that growers could be denied their money while the banks were looked after, as Ulster Bank must have known earlier that GVS was in serious difficulty yet allowed them to continue to trade.

“Ulster Bank are running a ‘Small business can' campaign at the moment, it should be called ‘small business can carry the can’,” Mr Howard said. “I'm so angry about this I'd be prepared to go to Mountjoy for it.”

Ulster Bank would not comment on the farmers' protests, saying it was a matter for the receiver.

It is believed that Ulster Bank was owed €2m, Bank of Ireland €600,000 and the Revenue €80-90,000 when GVS went into receivership

Talks are continuing between the IFA and Ulster Bank.