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Letters to the Editor: 'A solution to beef debacle'

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John Newman stamp from 1954

John Newman stamp from 1954

John Newman stamp from 1954

Sir - While any amount of deals may have been done by the time my letter is published, I'm writing it on Monday, just after the 9 o'clock news - and the minister is pleading to farmers on the pickets not to destroy the beef industry.

But for the protesters, their industry is already destroyed, so he must be pleading on behalf of the processors. The beef industry was destroyed by a so-called 'Competition Authority' and successive ministers who willingly cooperated as three processors gained control of 90pc of the industry.

The same is happening in the sheep trade. Last year, when the Goodman Group wanted to take over Slaney Meats (which would take their share of the industry from 22pc to over 50pc), every farm organisation objected. The matter was referred to the 'Competition Authority'. Guess what? Neither it, nor the minister, could see anything wrong with it. So it went ahead. Politicians are coming out of this 'beef debacle' badly. Their big concern seems to be the big three processors, not the 100,000 broke farmers.

Farmers think the politicians and the Competition Authority are somehow in the pockets of the beef barons. Why?

The minister sits idly by as the processors and retailers gobble up an ever greater share of the consumer spend.

The 'Competition Authority' can see no evidence of a cartel?

Three processors have control of 90pc of the industry. They each make in excess of €20m a year. They all keep a few thousand cattle - which they can bring out if the market starts to strengthen. They are all supplied by a captive cohort of 100,000 farmers, whose only source of disposable income is their EU payment once a year.

Is that not a perfect description of a cartel?

And when the IFA tried to do something about it, it was accused of trying to form a cartel - and its offices were raided by the 'Competition Authority'.

Is there a solution?

Yes, and it is simple - but as it requires courage from politicians, it won't happen. But here it is anyway. Introduce two laws.

First: No processor can have more than 10pc of the national kill. (If we had 12 similarly sized processors they would surely bid against each other for supplies.)

Second: No processor can own cattle. (As is the case in the USA. They wouldn't be able to bring out their own cattle to dampen an improving trade).

John Hourigan,

Murroe, Co Limerick

Stamp of greatness

Sir - On October 13 in Rome, Cardinal John Henry Newman, founder of University College Dublin, will be canonised by Pope Francis.

Surely his elevation to sainthood would be a fitting occasion for An Post to once again recognise this new saint of international repute, revered by Catholics and Anglicans alike?

It could be done very easily by a simple design comprising the two stamps issued in 1954.

Alternatively, perhaps there could be a joint issue between An Post and Royal Mail.

Given that Prince Charles will be leading the British state delegation to the canonisation, I wonder who will represent the Irish State?

Alan Whelan,

Killarney, Co Kerry

Hit squad cowards beneath contempt

Sir - Who are these rabble-rousers responsible for these actions by cowardly "republican" hit squads?

Meanwhile, Kevin Lunney still lies in his hospital bed.

Those cowards, these terrible people, are beneath contempt.

Robert Sullivan,

Bantry, Co Cork

Gaelic football needs to change

Sir - There has been a gradual decline of Gaelic football, starting in the 1970s and rapidly deteriorating in the past five years. Too much bodily contact ends in injuries and flare-ups. The remedy is to start anew in keeping the original idea of a football game - in which the ball is not held or carried longer than is necessary to kick it.

No scores to come from fisted pass except by deflection of the ball in flight. It's worth a shot.

Jim Byrne,

Tinahely, Co Wicklow

Are these plaudits really deserved?

Sir - Now that Dublin have won their five, they are being lauded as the greatest team of all time. But are all the plaudits heaped on the team deserved? I think not, given their defeats in the league, defeats which have never been fully addressed.

Richard Ryan

Pallasgreen, Co Limerick

Game should be at a proper hour

Sir - Dublin have achieved the ultimate, winning five consecutive titles. Some years past, there was a perception that the country boys were bigger, stronger and tougher than the city boys. This myth has been turned on its head.

The game today is all about speed, moving the ball at pace into the opponent's territory - and creating shooting spaces as close as possible to the goal line.

My only gripe is the replay should have been played last Sunday in Pairc Ui Chaoimh at the proper time of 3.30pm. The Kerry County Board should have made an issue out of this. The squeaking cart gets most attention.

M Walsh,

Malahide, Dublin

Church needs to try persuasion

Sir - It is not unusual for 20pc of children in Catholic schools to be of other religions or none; in some urban schools Catholic children are a minority. Yet all are compelled to attend religious instruction and sacramental preparation classes.

Every teacher is obliged to teach religion. But even with compulsory religious instruction (dubious in itself), over the past four decades the number of Catholics attending Mass aged 25 to 50 - the group most likely to have children at school - has fallen from nine in 10 to fewer than one in four.

Three-quarters of school-leavers seldom, or never, attend Mass. In the same period, six of the seven seminaries have closed.

To arrest this decline, the Irish Church should look to France. There, religious instruction is forbidden in public schools, but permitted in private schools. One in five schools is private and contracted to the State. Most have a Catholic ethos but participation in religious instruction is voluntary.

However, most Catholics received religious instruction and sacramental preparation outside school.

France ordained 114 priests in 2018 and will ordain more this year. In Ireland, despite compulsory religious instruction, there were eight ordinations - less than two priests per million Catholics.

Radical change is needed. Catholic schools should consider making religious instruction an opt-in subject and provide alternative classes for those who opt out. This will reinvigorate religious education.

The Catholic Church risks being used for "hatch, match and despatch" rituals, and little else. Authoritarianism has failed - it is time for the Catholic Church to try persuasion.

Anthony O'Leary,

Portmarnock, Co Dublin

Jest in time for Leo's coalition?

Sir - So Leo wants a grand coalition with Micheal Martin after the next general election? Many a true word hath been spoken in jest.

Pat O Callaghan,

Mallow, Co Cork

Online study way to free up housing

Sir - In light of the constant accommodation shortage in our cities and particularly in Dublin, it is time all universities offered most courses online.

It is outdated for rural students to descend on our cities to seek accommodation and attend lectures on campus. Most postgrad courses and private colleges offer courses on line.

All lectures should be available via modern technology, as could tutorials. All books on reading lists should be e-books. This would ensure huge savings for parents, and free up accommodation for families living in hotels, which is costing taxpayers a fortune.

It would allow students to source local part-time work to pay their own way, and save the State building more houses.

Ann Barry,

Clonmel, Co Tipperary

Pensioners take action at ballot box

Sir -It seems pensioners will not get a 2pc increase in the Budget, mostly due to the possibility of a hard Brexit.

If the Government was consistent, it would impose a pay freeze on all sectors - but this is not going to happen. Groups such as gardai, teachers and nurses would not give up their increases of over 3pc, and who would blame them?

How will the Government treat pay claims in the next year? No doubt it will argue that the country cannot afford pay increases because of Brexit, but will cave in as usual when strike action is threatened.

Pensioners cannot withdraw labour - but there is likely to be a general election next May. If the Budget is unfair, it is certain that pensioners will give an appropriate response in the ballot box.

John Curley,

Lucan, Co Dublin

Back to basics best recipe with beef

Sir - Taoiseach Leo Varadkar mentioned beef prices being set by supply and demand. It has always been so - but not now. Factory feedlots can control supply and cartels control demand. This is aided by nonsensical rules governing quality assurance.

A farmer, or a factory feedlot buyer, buying store cattle to fatten, judge their purchase on appearance, whether at a mart or on the land. This is supply and demand in operation and decides an agreed price on the spot.

Why cannot the factory beef buyer do likewise? The factories and retailers can then decide a price between them on the 30-odd different grades, the number of moves, the age limits and whatever other rules they've concocted over the last 20 years.

Go back to basics.

Michael Teehan,

Moyglass, Fethard, Co Tipperary

Fair Trade-style move now needed

The Fair Trade concept was developed to protect food producers in poor countries from exploitation. The beef crisis follows previous battles over the price of milk and vegetables.

We remember the 9c packs of brussels sprouts at Christmas - a price that was an insult to the hardworking producer.

The wholesalers, retailers, transport companies, even the State through taxation, all get their margin. Everybody else gets their money and the producer takes what is left.

Perhaps a Fair Trade intervention is now required in Ireland to protect our food producers. Why is Ireland so renowned for the quality of its food? Surely it is because of our primary producers, whose livelihoods we as a society must protect.

James Harnett,

Abbeyfeale, Co Limerick

The school cost of sporting success

Sir - After reading Will Slattery's article in last week's Sunday Independent on the link between rugby internationals and fee-paying secondary schools, I found myself wondering how many of Dublin's five-in-a-row All Ireland winners attended the top fee-paying schools?

Perhaps your columnist might be able to tell us?

Padraig McGinn,

Carrick-on-Shannon, Co Leitrim

Government's housing shame

Sir - The not-so-new phenomenon of tented villages springing up in Cork city is a terrible indictment of the mishandling of the social housing policy this State has adopted.

Let's hope the electorate remember this awful tragic fact in the forthcoming general election and remove the reason why this is now an everyday occurrence the homeless are plagued with.

Shame on the Government and their partners in crime.

Vincent O'Connell,

New Ross, Co Wexford

RTE should cater for all our tastes

Sir - I agree with Declan Lynch on the subject of RTE. If RTE scraps Lyric FM "for the sake of a few quid", it will mean that there are no alternative music programmes.

This is not the first time this happened as it cut Music for Middlebrows with Des Keogh and never replaced Tommy O'Brien's programme. It is a public broadcasting service, and should serve all tastes.

It should look at TG4 as an example of good broadcasting on a tight budget. Maybe it could look at the summer schedule when the top broadcasters were absent and successfully replaced.

Tina Dermody,

Blessington, Co Wicklow

Fair Deal scheme is anything but

Sir - In last week's Sunday Independent, Philip Ryan highlighted the comments of former minister Denis Naughten on the effect of the Fair Deal nursing home scheme.

It was thought-provoking. Under the scheme, it appears that a nursing home resident's house - an asset and a resource - is coerced into being redundant because the owner, a nursing home resident, is effectively barred from making use of it.

The asset in the form of a house incurs a 7.5pc charge for three years, after which no charge accrues to the owner. But if the asset is utilised by letting, or is liquidated, it will incur a charge to the owner.

So the latent opportunity cost of the asset in essence is, as the ex-minister says, being "effectively banned". Is such wanton waste not absurd? Three parties are being short-changed by this dog-in-a-manger attitude.

Firstly, the owner has an asset which is of value and its non-use in incurring an opportunity cost for them. Secondly, as a resource, the house could alleviate the horrendous housing shortage if the State - which holds an interest in the resource - chose to do so. And thirdly, the HSE funding of the Fair Deal scheme would be reduced with the cash-flow arising from arrangements made under either or both the foregoing utilisation of the asset resource.

It is not beyond the wit of man to devise another Fair Deal between the house owner, the local authority - as landlord for the State - and the HSE, which produces a three-way win for all parties involved... and no cost.

Michael Nelson,

Stillorgan, Co Dublin

Sunday Independent