Opinion

Saturday 17 August 2019

Haunted by our little ghosts and hawthorn

Fiona O'Connell

Hawthorn is everywhere in ghostly bloom beyond this country town; petals blowing like surreal snow in the breeze. I would never dare break a branch of this fairy tree, no matter if some call me superstitious.

Though our dairy industry seems more fantastical than any folklore, with Fine Gael Senator Tim Lombard recently stating "we are in a crisis". It would be farcical if it weren't so wretchedly sad and wrong that, as he confirmed, bull calves that are viewed as nothing more than 'waste products' have been selling for as little as 50 cents.

The senator said: "The only person being squeezed is the dairy and beef farmer." Many sympathise with their plight. But what about the poor creatures at the coal face of this intensive farming? Recent footage taken by Dutch animal welfare group 'Eyes on Animals' shows a worker at a control post in Cherbourg stamping on Irish calves, kicking them in the head, and beating them.

Adjectives have been showered on this brutality by those in the industry to what they refer to as an "isolated incident" by "one individual". Making it some coincidence, indeed a fantastical fluke, that it was recorded the only time a member of the Dutch group managed to gain access, where they noted other workers and the manager were present.

Let's hope promises of greater security are to protect those powerless pawns in the industry, not to stop concerned citizens who take considerable risks to expose what happens to animals behind closed doors.

Though how will we know if the brutality stops, given live exports continued just the same when ignorance was bliss? And we have no jurisdiction over France, let alone Spain, Turkey, Poland or the Middle East?

Some in the industry admit, even as they claim to bond with their livestock, including their undeniably brief encounter with fortnight-old calves, that what happens to them once they leave our shores is none of their concern.

For cows are no different to cars, as a TD made the comparison last year, when asked if farmers feel any responsibility for their fate - with our Government making live exports almost sound like animals having an adventure.

Minister Creed was "appalled" by the footage. Unlike the son of a dairy farmer, who I met at Rosslare port last March. He watches the livestock trucks arrive, the calves all so pristine, small and so vulnerable. "The lucky ones, really, are those that snuff it before the continent."

Because even dumb animals cry themselves hoarse for their mothers, hungry and thirsty, stressed and scared. Several locals told me they avoid the area, because the sound of them is too much to bear.

Already the volume of live exports is up 40pc on last year. No one wants to rock the boat. Because once it leaves these shores, it won't matter if those calves cry any more.

But sometimes the fairy tree blows so fiercely that you hear little ghosts.

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