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Ray Doyle, Livestock & Environmental Services Executive

Monday, 6th July 2020:  ICOS Livestock & Environmental Services Executive, Ray Doyle, has called on the new Minister of Agriculture, Barry Cowen, TD to consider as a matter of urgency a dedicated grant aid package for livestock marts saying closure during COVID-19 restrictions has threatened the viability of marts across the country.

“Livestock marts were one of the only agri related businesses to have their businesses closed by Government during the COVID-19 restrictions during the busiest time of the year for all marts.  This resulted in a major loss of income that will probably not be replaced during 2019.  We now need the government to support the marts with a new dedicated stimulus package, focused on mart operations”.

According to Mr Doyle, the stimulus package would assist marts to invest in the necessary infrastructure so they could continue to operate in any future pandemic.

“COVID-19 will be with us for many months, possibly years and it is anticipated that we will see enforced regional lock-downs as the virus peaks in different parts of the country.  We are calling on the Minister for Agriculture to ringfence funding for a stimulus package that will allow marts to maintain an online system to facilitate continued trading in any future lockdown.  Setting up online is an expensive process, but maintaining it is even more so.   We also need to see more urgency to the rural broadband scheme and immediate investment in broadband connections.  Many marts have struggled to get the appropriate level of broadband connection to run the three major suppliers of software to the marts and on the other trading end of this potential purchasers and sellers of livestock need good connection speeds to complete sales”.

Mr Doyle also called for a review of the 2 metre social distancing imposed in marts arguing that it was disruptive to operations and that like other sectors, marts should be allowed to operate to a 1 metre social distance.

“Minister Cowen needs to investigate whether marts should operate as the hospitality sector and have a lower limit of at least 1 metre in place for 90 minutes.   Many marts could easily operate on a series of breaks every 90 minutes and reconvene sales thereby protecting employees and visitors.  We currently have an unsustainable situation where you can sit at a one metre distance in mart canteens, which are operated by independent contractors, but then have to sit two meters apart ringside.  It makes no sense, particularly when we  are currently recording names and times of entry into marts to ensure prompt contract tracing, as part of our detailed Standard Operating Procedures agreed with the Department of Agriculture”, he said.

Doyle added; “Farmers nationally have now seen the true value of the local mart and current trading figures from marts have shown large sales during June which was unheard of in other years as farmers buying or selling had stalled their trading until the marts re opened. Marts are essential to the fabric of rural Ireland and many who were isolated over the last 3 months need the social interaction the mart offers.  It is imperative that the new Minister for Agriculture recognises the role of livestock marts and secures funding for a stimulus package”.