Fianna Fáil pledge food ombudsman to help farmers secure a better deal
A food ombudsman would be set up to ensure farmers get a fair deal and laws to tackle below cost selling were key policy pillars, according to the Fianna Fáil leader.
With 250,000 farm family votes to play for, Micheál Martin set out the party's proposals as they met with the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) executive council. They ranged from making flood relief schemes the top infrastructure priority to restoring payments for farmers in disadvantaged areas.
Jer Bergin, the IFA national chair, called for a retail ombudsman to be installed. He emphasised the importance of farm incomes with farmers earning €24,000 on average a year.
He also raised concerns in relation to competition over a move by Larry Goodman's beef processor ABP to take a 50pc stake in Slaney Foods. However, ABP has pointed out the move is aimed at developing "scale" to allow the firm compete internationally and is subject to competition rules.
Mr Martin said a small number of "dominant players" have been allowed to set the prices. "Fianna Fail will amend consumer legislation and establish a national food ombudsman and the protection of primary producers in national law," he said, highlighting it in the recent aftermath of the findings from the UK groceries code adjudicator against Tesco in the UK.
He said a new office should examine the "blanket market concentration" of a few processors in the beef sector and below cost selling in the agricultural areas by low cost multiples to ensure competition.
Mr Martin said he felt rural Ireland and the regional areas were being left behind. "An unfair two tier recovery has taken hold which has concentrated growth disproportionately in one location leaving the regions lagging," he said.
He stressed high speed broadband to rural areas was key "in terms of economic development" and they would also undertake an audit of mobile phone reception if elected to government.
Pat Hennessy, the IFA Laois county chairman, said large numbers of people in rural areas were "living in fear" due to rural crime.
Mr Martin said he was hearing concerns on the canvass trail, with front doors now "locked" - something he had never encountered before.
"It does need an expansion of gardaí and we're saying to 15,000 with a stronger presence on the ground."