Monday 27 January 2020

No frills or fluffies - but plenty of spin and suffering

Eavaun Carmody and one of her Dexters at Killenure castle
Eavaun Carmody and one of her Dexters at Killenure castle

Fiona O'Connell

One of my favourite songs is She Moved Through The Fair. But while I mooched about the fair near this country town, I spent most of my time admiring the sweet faces of a barn-full of Dexter cows.

Some might say that is typical of a 'fluffy' - a term used to mock supposedly airy-fairy animal lovers like myself. Which is kind of ironic. Because when it comes to live exports, the Department of Agriculture and vested interests remind me of John Lennon's Imagine, the way they prefer fantasy to facts.

Many in the industry also stereotype concerned citizens as animal rights fanatics. And while some protesters could possibly be deemed imbalanced, surely the real extremists are those so desperate to push their agenda that they deny the evidence before their eyes, dismissing footage from reputable animal welfare organisations as being staged. ICSA president Paddy Kent has even claimed there is "some sort of vegan plot".

Yet not just far-out vegans but rural folk fed up being branded with the same brush are among those watching what is actually happening to thousands of Irish animals at our ports and on foreign shores.

"They think the public are thick and don't know what's going on. But I'm not one of those fluffies who says animals shouldn't be kept and all that. I'm pro-farmers. People are entitled to make a living," says Jim, who grew up on a dairy farm. "My father was amazing about welfare and I loved being totally involved."

He may not agree with animal rights, but he is passionate about their welfare. "Some say 'look at all the poor children'. And I know that. But someone has to speak up for the animals."

Which is why he's a loudmouth when it comes to live exports.

"I remember one day I was getting hay for my horses when two trucks pulled up alongside me, turning right for Rosslare. Even at that stage the little calves were bawling their heads off. It was just dreadful. And I said, 'I'm going to have to go down to the port and see what's going on'."

What he found was an atmosphere "like the USSR" which helped him form his own beliefs about live exports.

"There's an awful lot of spin. They're pushing live exports and trying to frill it up. The department keep repeating their mantra about 'loaded under supervision' and so on, which appeases people. They think: 'Oh, sure, the department has rules and regulations, so of course they're looking after them.' But I don't believe they are."

He has had frustrating experiences whenever he tried to get information.

"I can't tell you the number of people who say 'Oh, sure, the calves are really well looked after and get fed and everything.' And I say 'Really? Why don't you go down to Rosslare and see exactly what's going on and then come back to me?' They keep saying 'I imagine this and I imagine that'. And I tell them - get some facts. Don't bother imagining."

And they may say I'm a dreamer!

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