Farm Ireland

Monday 20 November 2017

Born free but channelled into a straitjacket of regulations

Rules designed to protect people can quickly become intrusive

John Shirley

At a dinner recently a lady bemoaned the fact that Ireland was becoming a less civilised country.

I agreed.

Drug addicts, binge drinkers, errant bankers, child abusers, robbers and burglars. You name it, all are damaging the quality of our lives.

But no, that was not what she meant about becoming less civilised.

She was referring to the fact that our society is reeling from over-regulation. This is happening to a level that freedom and quality of life is suffering. Regulation that is designed to protect people is in reality putting extra pressure and cost on us. We may be born free but very quickly we are channelled into a straitjacket of regulation.

Farmers will readily identify with this sentiment. Calendar farming has taken over. We have regulation on the environment, animal identification, animal movement, animal medicines, animal welfare ... the list is scary and growing.

Because of the misdemeanours of a few, everybody suffers. An example is the new legislation regarding security on bank borrowings.

To process the security on a farm loan now demands two solicitors. One is for the bank while the other is for the borrower, with the farmer footing the fees for both.

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This adds another disincentive for farmers embarking on new projects. Planning costs and planning restrictions are also impeding progress.

Across society we are being hit with extra regulation because of health and safety, fire safety, food safety, child welfare and child protection.

None of the new regulation is occurring in a vacuum. Much of it is enacted in response to malpractice and abuse.

But media pressure and the drive for political correctness are also factors.

My fear is that the new rules are creating more problems than they solve and reducing life quality all round. In other words, the cure can be worse than the disease.

We now have tails wagging dogs. People such as fire officers and food safety inspectors have enormous powers. They can overrule company bosses and chief executives.


They can shut down businesses at the stroke of a pen and drive business costs to uneconomic levels. Jobs are being lost because of the cost of regulation. Already cash-starved sports and other voluntary clubs are being hit with sucker punches from Government inspectors.

Well and good if there are real risks and genuine poor practices.

But there is also the possibility that inspectors will abuse their power and go on solo runs.

Say for instance a fire safety officer has contact with a business making or trading in fire doors.

He or she could put a lot of business in that direction. I'm not saying that this has ever happened, but the possibility is there.

The Health Information Quality Authority (HIQA) is doing good work monitoring medical and hygiene standards across the country's hospitals. There is no excuse for some of the poor standards that their inspections have uncovered.

But the hospital nurses and staff tell me that an inordinate amount of their time is going into keeping records and filling forms rather than tending to their patients.

At the same time many, well run and highly valued State nursing homes are still under threat of closure because of HIQA inspections. With an ageing population, the last thing rural Ireland needs is to close its nursing homes.

People with relatives in nursing homes tell me that while the staff are wonderful they have to operate under a rigid regime that is not always patient-friendly.

Sporting clubs are also now in the eye of the storm on child protection and child welfare. The authorities have worked their way through the churches and schools and now they are targeting sporting and other clubs dealing with children and young people.

Again, I can see where the regulations are coming from. The revelations of child abuse in state and church institutions has been harrowing. Some rules and guidelines were needed.

But have we gone over the top? Teachers tell me that in a one-to-one meeting with a student they now have to leave the room door open. Club leaders cannot be alone with a child even to drop them back home. The irony is that while all these controls and all the garda vetting is under way, the paedophile will still find a way to continue with the abuse.

The only change will be that life will be a lot more difficult for compliant, law-abiding citizens. It will also be harder to source volunteers to work with young people.


Some of the regulations are leading to farcical situations. I heard of one case where gardai had taken a car accident victim into the back seat of their squad car.

The victim then complained of a back injury. In case of a back injury from a road traffic accident, apparently the rule is that the patient cannot be taken out through the door. So the roof of the squad car had to be removed.

After hearing a recent speech from Minister Simon Coveney, I am not optimistic about any easing of the inspection and regulation load during his watch. Speaking at the Commercial Cattle Exhibitors event in Gurteen College, he said that the reason why Irish food had such a good reputation in the market in these times was precisely because of our regime of tight inspections and traceability. Again there is some validity in this argument.

But it does not justify some of the belligerent approach of his inspectors and the harassment that some farmers have suffered.

There is a civilised balance to inspection.

This is not always happening.

Irish Independent

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