Sinn Féin spokesperson on Agriculture Matt Carthy TD has criticised the “excessive delays and shifting time-lines” in the establishment of a food ombudsman or meat regulator.
The Cavan/Monaghan TD described the most recent promise from the Minister to see the office established by the end of the year as “bizarre”.
Teachta Carthy said:
“The proposed timeline for the establishment of a Food Ombudsman has constantly shifted since Minister Charlie McConalogue took office.
“Last May, the Minister promised that legislation to establish the office would be brought to the Oireachtas by the end of 2021.
“In December, he said he intended to bring a memo to cabinet ‘early in the new year’.
“This week the Minister now tells us that the office will be established by the end of 2022.
“If Minister McConalogue envisaged the preparation and passing of this legislation taking 7-months last year, it is actually quite bizarre that 9-months later he is stating that it will take a further 10-months.
“By implementing the Unfair Trading Practices through statutory instrument rather than primary legislation Minister McConalogue took the most minimalist approach available to him in the first instance.
“Nearly a year later, and it appears little progress has been made with the Bill to establish an enforcement authority, further compounding views that this is not priority legislation for the government.
“The unit currently responsible for the Unfair Trading Practice directive actually saw its staff count decrease from 3 to 2 between May and October last year, a period in which it did not deal with a single case.
“Since that time, it has been confirmed to me that while the staffing of the unit has returned to 3, the unit has still yet to hear a single case, and despite having been allocated a budget amounting to €5 million over 2021/22, it has to date only incurred expenditure of €143,839, with over 79% having been on staffing costs.
“The Minister is allowing the Unfair Trading Practices Directive to wither on the vine while farmers continue to be exploited by retailers and processors with virtually no avenue for recourse other than protests.
“It is for that reason that I have requested that the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture begin engagements with stakeholders immediately on this proposed legislation.
“The only excuse for these excessive delays is a lack of political will, and that this legislation is not in fact a priority for this government.
“Sinn Féin remains committed to the establishment of an Independent Meat Regulator to tackle unfair trading practices and cartel-like practices in the sector. We will continue to press the Minister to deliver this in order to end the unfair market conditions in which our farmers have been expected to operate in for too long.”