Farm Ireland

Saturday 20 January 2018

My '14 wish - reset the moral compass of those in power

Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

A new year, a fresh start; the traditional time for making resolutions. Well, I'd like to add my tuppence and make some suggestions of what I would like to see happening in the year ahead, which admittedly is a bit of a wish-list ... but here's hoping.

The Oxford English dictionary declared its word of 2013 as "selfie", taking a photo of oneself. If the Department of Agriculture was to take a selfie today, what would it see? A benign patriarch trying to get the best out of its children by encouragement and leadership or a stern presence always on the lookout for opportunities to criticise and undermine?

Several canvassers who travelled the country in the recent IFA election spoke of a creeping sense of anger and unease which seems to have taken hold of farmers. This is somewhat surprising given the relatively buoyant product prices.

So what is the cause of this angst?

Could it be the increasingly hard line attitude which the Department appears to be adopting towards farmers, its customers? In saying this, I want to clarify that many, many Department personnel conduct their business not just in a professional, but in a genuinely humane manner. This is an issue of corporate attitude, systems and use of language.

One-third of Irish farmers, including ourselves, were sent out letters by the Department about map irregularities under its controversial land parcel eligibility review. I would contend that most discrepancies are just down to more accurate mapping. And how come when a farmer appears to have made a mistake, the automatic response is to reach for the penalty gun yet when the Department does, its a clerical error?

But what really infuriates farmers about being pursued for the smallest, often inadvertent, deviations and minute amounts of money is that high-profile misdemeanours pass by without any consequences in this country.

On a radio poll over the festive season, the Central Remedial Clinic salary top-ups was voted by listeners as the lowest of the country's lows of 2013. The also-ran list included the Anglo tapes.

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While there is no comparison in the sums involved, I think that we Irish people feel worse about the charity because it betrays two of the characteristics which define us as a people; our generosity and our trust. We are not surprised that property developers were out to make money, but when it comes to charitable work, we expect the primary motivation of those involved would be the greater good. So if I had one wish for this country, it would be for a resetting of the moral compass of those in power.

In the midst of all these scandals, could I say I hope that we as a people do not allow ourselves to become cynical. We would be well entitled to, but the net result is that those less fortunate will become even more marginalised and the frontline staff trying to help them will find their jobs even more difficult. I hope all of us will treasure what we have and will continue to look out for each other.

Last week, in the glove pocket of the car, I came across a packet containing a disposable knife, fork and napkin which had cost 19c; how can it be right that 3kg of carrots could be bought for less than that in supermarkets across the country over recent weeks?

The recent supermarket price wars have undermined the principle that good food costs money; and that good food is good value for money. I would dearly love to see retailers appreciating the natural, wholesome food farmers produce and paying farmers a fair price for that produce.

If the multiple retailers want to use perishable foods as loss leaders to draw in customers, that is their prerogative, but it is also their business.

It is not the farmers' business; yet it would be very naive for anyone to think that farmers escape carrying the cost.

And, lest anyone question the growth of the power of the multiples, consider this as an example: German discount chain Lidl only opened its first shop in Ireland in 2000 and now has 150 outlets on the island. Together with Aldi, they now account for more than 15pc of the Irish grocery market, with Tesco on 26.8pc, Dunnes 22.1pc and SuperValu on 19.7, totalling more than 83pc of the entire sector.

Retailer price wars are a game in which consumers are the inadvertent weapon and any of us who can afford to buy their vegetables elsewhere should be doing so. Ideally, we should all be trying to shop locally. But this is a bigger battle which needs to be fought on a broader front.

At a more general farming level, I hope that the Rural Development programme over the next seven years will be finalised as soon as possible and national co-funding is maximised in order to restore some stability and security for vital rural and farm schemes.

I hope there will be no more food scares and, at a personal level, I, as the person supposed to be looking after the farm paperwork, have been made to promise that I will look into increasing the use of the computer in terms of record keeping.


Hopefully the BVD eradication scheme will start to show dividends. As for the old dinosaur, TB, my wish is a badger vaccination that will finally make its overdue appearance; or, failing that, that there is a radical overhaul of the TB scheme.

Nobody seems to mention it much these days, but it continues to cost the State around €15m a year and the farmers more than €5m a year in disease levies plus the cost of testing the country's 6.9m cattle. And, please, could there be a revisiting of the 'farming-by-dates' policy. This past autumn was probably ideal for spreading slurry yet tankers all over the country were parked up.

Heading into fantasy land, I wonder if there was been any progress on the once-touted long life sexed semen? This is technology that would allow cows to be inseminated once at the start of the breeding season, with the semen working whenever the cow was breeding. Nine months later, the beef farmer would be presented with a bull calf and the dairymen a heifer. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

Oh, if there's a little bit of luck still left, can I throw in Limerick for the All-Ireland Hurling and Munster for the Heineken Cup? Happy New Year!

Ann Fitzgerald can be contacted at

Irish Independent