19 April 2001 Edition

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Mála Poist

Rodgers needs to look South for F&M answers

A Chairde,

The alarming spread of Foot and Mouth in the North, along with the IFA's concern over measures at northern and British ports, illustrate the need for a much more integrated, all-Ireland approach to this disease and agriculture generally.

According to my own information from lorry drivers, the IFA is correct in saying that the most effective methods, such as automatic spraying of vehicles and ''fogging'' of people is not being used at Larne, Belfast or Warrenpoint ports (although they are being employed in far-away Australia and New Zealand!).

Mrs Rodgers should address this deficiency urgently if further importations of the disease from a FMD-riddled Britain is to be prevented. She should also begin to assert some independence from the British government (which seems to have other priorities), to ensure that similar measures are taken north and south, thus easing the severe economic pressure on farmers, food processing, tourism and indeed the whole economy. This should include an immediate culling when any ''hot suspect'' is identified, unlike in Ardboe, where suspect animals were left to spread the infection for four days - the damage being compounded by the premature release of negative preliminary results, which turned out to be false.

If there had been much stronger all-Ireland bodies with more independence from Britain, as advocated by Sinn Féin in the Good Friday Agreement negotiations, then much of the massive devastation caused by FMD could have been avoided by an immediate all-Ireland clampdown on livestock and food imports from Britain.

(It would have helped if the very early indications of the disease, which have since been reported in the British media, had been made public in time.)

If the Good Friday Agreement is to be strengthened, it is vital that the all-Ireland bodies are given more powers and greater freedom of action to prevent the island of Ireland from being afflicted by more diseases such as FMD and BSE.

Cllr Dessie Ellis


Dublin 11

Structural support for farming is unfair

A Chairde,

The farming industry is reeling from one crisis to another. The tragedy of Foot and Mouth disease piled on top of the slow nightmare that has been 'mad cow disease' (BSE) opens up serious questions about how Ireland's farm industry is organised.

Being relatively young, the 1980s are a decade of which I only have fleeting memories - obvious distaste for the yuppie culture, the irritating Kylie and Jason saga, and overall a bad decade for music, fashion and most other things besides. One of the more significant memories is the image, which arrived, in our rural bungalow, of the famine in Africa. There were, I suppose, a number of distinct crises but I was a child and I didn't really see or register the importance of nationality in relation to these disasters.

I also remember my parents having to repeatedly explain to me that the bloated images of those young children on the TV weren't healthy but actually suffering from malnutrition. I suppose I was a child and I only ever understood one explanation of a bloated stomach.

On top of these, I recall in detail the reports of butter, bread, meat and wine mountains. These mountains were the products of western economic structural support for farming. To a child, the relationship between the two realities, one of famine and the other of stockpiling of food, seems simple. 'Live Aid' etc. were acceptable faces of our countries' attitudes towards the starving masses, but we could have easily saved millions of lives. However, the mind of the political bureaucracy is a lot more cynical, calculating and cruel than that of a na•ve child.

Jump forward to the year 2001, and the reality of farming in Ireland isn't radically different. There are grants for machinery, grants for farming buildings, subsidies for livestock, set aside programmes and quotas to stop overproduction. The farming lobby has worked really hard to achieve this kind of support. The IFA and ICMSA in the 26 Counties declare that farming is in crisis if it rains, if the sun shines, if it snows, if there is frost or any of those other weather conditions which Ireland's climate unsurprisingly brings.

Of course, if there are these wonderful supports for the farming industry, someone somewhere is footing the bill. The European Union to an extent has fulfilled that role but that particular pied piper is beginning to lose interest in a small economy on the edge of the Atlantic.

Over the last decade, the role of supporting the farming industry has slowly been moving from European bureaucrat to Irish taxpayer. So who pays tax in Ireland? It certainly isn't big business. The tax wedge in Ireland, unlike most other western economies, is borne by the PAYE worker, who has only recently been guaranteed a paltry level of minimum wage. The PAYE workers, who if they're people such as nurses, teachers, train drivers etc. have to take to the streets to gain attention for their legitimate pay claims.

The present policies of funding for the farming industry are the government equivalent of 'pissing in the wind'. They are wasting valuable resources, which can and morally should be spent in other areas. What about the disadvantaged and the long term unemployed? There are communities in urban areas in Ireland which have been deprived for decades. Antisocial behaviour and the heroin crisis (both products of society, not the climate) are indicative of the problems these communities face. The fate of the PAYE workers is similar. The mantra of social partnership has been a restraint on workers' pay in order to steady the economy while 'Big Business' has wallowed in tax break after tax break.

There are many small farmers on this island who live in poverty, while the sranchers' cream off millions of pounds. These families' reality is similar to those of ordinary workers and deprived communities. However, the future for the farming industry isn't more grants, subsidies and quotas. It is state ownership of an industry, which has so far been constructed to benefit a narrow band of Irish society.

The GATT and the CAP have not worked. The famines of the 1980s developed into the famines of the 1990s and now we are in a new century. The famines and poverty of the last couple of centuries don't have to continue. Food production is a crucial sector for any country and it needs to be developed to provide affordable and safe food.

Damian Lawlor


An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1