Viewpoint: Clongowes whitewash leaves a sour taste

Questions: Martin Ferris
Questions: Martin Ferris
Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

The Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney was challenged in the Dáil this week over his handling of the case surrounding Bill Carroll and the supply of close to 500,000 litres of milk through the Clongowes Wood College milk supplier number to Glanbia.

Sinn Féin's Martin Ferris pressed the Minister to reveal the actual opinion of the Chief State Solicitor after reviewing the matter.

Despite being asked three times, Mr Coveney declined to reveal what the Chief State Solicitor's opinion on the case was.

Instead, he stressed that the issue was discussed by top officials in Agriculture House, and that they decided not to press ahead with criminal charges for three reasons:

that there was no guarantee of a win for the State if they pressed ahead with a case;

that there had been no financial gains for the individuals involved since a full superlevy payment was paid by the parties involved;

there were no losses to other farmers as a result of the actions.

Should the case be left at that? It appears that the State and the parties involved in the investigation think so.

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But let's reflect on the allegations that this story centres on. It is alleged that Bill Carroll attempted to sell close to €300,000 of milk to Glanbia from his farm in Tipperary under the milk supplier number for the farm attached to Clongowes Wood College in Co Kildare.

The Department investigations unit got a tip-off about the allegations, and a full-blown investigation ensued.

The fact that superlevy fines have been fully paid up by the parties involved reinforced most people's worst suspicions.

But perhaps a bigger issue is the aspect of corporate governance from the processor involved. Not only was Bill Carroll facilitated by that organisation, but he continues to represent the other 4,800 suppliers as one of the 11 farmer representatives on the board of Glanbia.

How does that reflect on the corporate values of Ireland's largest milk processor? Surely the people that are elected to this board and paid €35,000 a year for doing so are expected to lead by example.

The fact that Minister Coveney chose not to give Deputy Ferris a straight answer and reveal exactly what the opinion of the Chief State Solicitor's office was on this case only serves to raise people's suspicions even further.

Glanbia think of themselves as best-in-class, equipped to go toe-to-toe with any competition on the international stage. But the aftermath of this case suggests otherwise.

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