JUDICIAL REVIEW

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Notice on gate at entrance to farmland in Co. Meath along the route of proposed interconnector. Pic. © Michael Fisher

JUDICIAL REVIEW OF BORD PLEANÁLA DECISION ON ELECTRICITY INTERCONNECTOR

Anti-pylon campaigners representing landowners from Meath and part of Co. Monaghan are taking part in a court case in Dublin this week aimed at overturning the planning approval for the North-South electricity interconnector. An Bord Pleanála granted approval last December for the major infrastructure project involving almost 300 pylons and overhead high voltage wires running across countryside from the border at Lemgare, near Clontibret in Co.Monaghan, to a sub station at Woodland, near Batterstown in Co. Meath. EirGrid has said the overall cost of construction will be €286 million, €180m for the proposed development in the Republic and the balance for the shorter SONI section in Co. Armagh leading to a sub station at Turleenan near the Moy, Co. Tyrone.

In February the North East Pylon Pressure Campaign, which has led the opposition amongst landowners and residents to the 400kV overhead line since it was first proposed eight years ago, was granted leave to apply for a judicial review of the Bord Pleanála decision. The case is also in the name of Maura Sheehy, a farmer, of Teltown Road, Donaghpatrick, Co Meath, one of the hundreds of objectors who attended the lengthy public enquiry held in Carrickmacross last year.

As well as challenging An Bord Pleanála, the case is also against the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; and the State. The developer, EirGrid, is a notice party. Nigel Hillis of the County Monaghan Anti Pylon Committee was among the interested observers at the Commercial Court on Tuesday when the hearing opened in front of Mr Justice Max Barrett.

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High voltage electricity line and pylon. Pic. Michael Fisher

The court was told that in approving the development, An Bord Pleanála had failed to take into account the potential impact of the UK planning to leave the European Union. A lawyer for the applicants, Conleth Bradley SC, said the grounds of challenge included a failure by the Board to address properly the rights of the affected landowners as well as environmental issues and the implications of Brexit.

The judge will later hear two separate but similar challenges over the permission granted for the interconnector. They are being brought by David Malone, of Eurolaw Environmental Consultants, St Joseph’s Terrace, Portarlington, Co Laois, and Val Martin, a farmer and environmental campaigner of Gortnakesh, Co. Cavan. The case continues.

MUSHROOMS CRISIS

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MUSHROOM INDUSTRY ‘IN TURMOIL’ SINCE BREXIT VOTE

IFA SEEKS GOVERNMENT ASSISTANCE FOR PRODUCERS

Michael Fisher    Northern Standard  Thursday 29th September p.1

The Irish mushroom industry has been thrown into turmoil since the UK voted to withdraw from the European Union, according to producers. Chief Executive of Monaghan Mushrooms Ronnie Wilson said they were facing a very difficult crisis, partially caused by the change in the rate between the Euro and sterling. The IFA’s mushroom committee chairman Gerry Reilly said €7m worth of exports and 130 jobs had been lost since the Brexit vote in June.

Both men made a presentation on Tuesday to the Oireachtas agriculture committee alongside Micheál McGovern, chair of Monaghan-based Commercial Mushroom Producers (CMP), Lesley Codd of Codd Mushrooms from Tullow, Co Carlow; and Rowena Dwyer, IFA chief economist.

Among the legislators who heard their evidence was Senator Robbie Gallagher from Monaghan (Fianna Fáil). He said it was imperative the government in the forthcoming budget provided the industry with a bridge to get them over this difficult period.

mushyrooms.jpgCurrently, Irish growers produce around 70,000 tonnes of mushrooms, of which 80%, worth €120m at farm gate (double the value of Irish potatoes), is marketed to UK multiples through a network of marketing agents. There are around sixty growers and they employ 3,500 people, most of them in rural Ireland, especially Monaghan. Only four European countries produce more than Ireland.

Mr Reilly told the committee: “Since the UK vote to leave the EU, the mushroom industry in Ireland has been thrown into turmoil, and growers are in loss-making territory, resulting from the sudden and significant weakening of sterling,” he said.

WEAKENING OF STERLING

The weakening of the sterling is having such a damaging effect because the marketing companies that sell Irish mushrooms negotiate their contracts in sterling. In addition, mushroom prices are forward agreed, generally for contract periods of up to twelve months. As they are fixed contracts, mushroom producers cannot renegotiate the price the receive.

MMushrooms.jpgThe immediate difficulty is that contracts have been agreed in sterling, when sterling was at a much stronger position against the Euro. For the first six months of this year, the average exchange rate was £0.78 to €1. This meant a payment of £1 was worth €1.28 to Irish producers. Today, that same pound is worth only €1.16, sterling having weakened by over 13% since the Brexit vote. CMP estimates that €10m will be lost on an annual basis across the CMP farms in the Republic, translating to an average loss per farm of somewhere between €250,000 and €300,000.

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IFA Horticulture Chair Gerry Reilly

Mr Reilly reminded the Oireachtas members: “mushrooms are a perishable product with a relatively short shelf life, produced 52 weeks a year. The ‘best before’ date is five – seven days after harvesting. There is no viable alternative market for such a highly perishable fresh product.

Currently the UK is our only market. We send more than 50 Artic loads to the UK, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Resulting from the closure of the Russian market, mushrooms from eastern Europe, produced at much lower production costs, are now entering the UK retail market and displacing Irish produce.

mushroomwhite.jpgSHORT-TERM SUPPORTS

On behalf of the IFA and CMP, Mr Reilly called on the government to introduce a number of short-term supports:

  1. Immediate payment by the government of the producer organisation (PO) funding due to the CMP (53 producers) for their 2015 programme.
  2. A temporary reduction in the lower rate of employer PRSI (from 8.5% to 4.25%) to be introduced in October’s budget to directly affect employment costs for mushroom producers.
  3. An extension of the tax relief measure for startup companies to existing companies in the mushroom sector. This would be capped at €15,000 per annum, thereby recognising the limitations imposed by State aid rules for the agriculture sector.
  4. No increase in excise rates on agricultural diesel or other road fuels.
  5. Direct support to mushroom producers through CAP market support measures.
  6. Agricultural Diesel – there must be no increase in excise rates for Marked Gas Oil (agricultural diesel). In addition, given the importance of maintaining competitiveness, the IFA would have to question any move by the Government to increase excise rates on other road fuels at this time.

mushroooms.jpgPOLISH PRODUCT

The IFA submission stated that a significant and longer-term market pressure for Irish producers is the foothold that has been gained in the UK retail market by Polish product. This is very worrying as their cost base is only a fraction of ours e.g. their labour rate is 28% of the minimum wage in Ireland.

The dominant power of the retailers and significant food price deflation in fresh produce, has resulted in serious downward price pressure on our mushroom exports, which has now been compounded by the sterling decline.

Mushroom production is highly labour intensive and the threats now faced by the industry could result in significant job losses. It will also impact on the tillage sector, as the mushroom industry is a significant purchaser of wheaten straw and on the poultry sector, as poultry litter is used in mushroom compost.

In the past, a reduction in production or closure of a mushroom business was replaced by increased production from fellow growers. However, market share lost by the Irish mushroom industry as a result of the current crisis will simply be replaced by other European suppliers.

The IFA has met the Minister for Horticulture Andrew Doyle to impress on him the immediate need to take a number of actions to support our mushroom sector in the wake of the light of Brexit and the weakening of sterling. We also note the recent comments by Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed acknowledging the particular issues of the mushroom sector, and his commitment to provide support to the sector in the Budget process, Mr Reilly said.

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Ronnie Wilson, CEO Monaghan Mushrooms

A DIFFICULT CRISIS

Ronnie Wilson of Monaghan Mushrooms said the situation now was very different from eight years ago when the industry was expanding and they were able to compete throughout Europe. He said the two problems for producers were retail discounters and food deflation. The concept of cheap food was now politically very acceptable, he told the committee.

“It’s a very difficult situation. If we let the industry go into freefall that really would be a disaster”, he said. We must stop the industry from going into freefall, he emphasised. Already they were not able to supply all their contracts which were mainly with UK multiples. They were currently purchasing product in Poland and Holland to service the UK contracts.

“We can continue to do so for a little while but can’t go on very long”, he said. The first thing they had to ensure was to stop producers closing, because contracts would be under threat if that happened.

Mr Wilson said one measure the government could take that would be very supportive of the industry would cost very little. The industry required flexibility of labour and worked unsociable hours. He wondered if it would be possible to have a permit scheme introduced to bring in harvesters from non-EU countries in eastern Europe and that would be a very advantageous element, in his view. One or two growers had stopped operating because of the currency exchange rate, but there was also an element of some labour difficulties.

The chair of the committee Pat Deering TD told him that was a suggestion they could include in their budget submission as well.

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Senator Robbie Gallagher

EFFECT ON MONAGHAN

Senator Robbie Gallagher from Monaghan (Fianna Fáil) congratulated the mushroom industry representatives on their achievements over the past thirty years. He said they deserved great credit for building up the industry and creating 3500 jobs.

He knew Ronnie Wilson quite well, who he said had been a leading name in the mushroom industry for up to thirty years. He was a very large employer and they were fortunate to have him in County Monaghan. Of the 3500 jobs in the industry, around 1000 are in Monaghan and of those up to half were employed by Mr Wilson.

So it was a particularly difficult issue for a county like Monaghan. No other county was more exposed to this crisis than Monaghan, he said. Senator Gallagher told the committee he was sure this was a particularly stressful time for everybody in the industry, when external factors over which they had very little control could determine the future. “I can only imagine what you and everybody in the industry is going through”, he told the committee.

Words like ‘crisis’ and ‘freefall’ had been used in the presentation and it was clear to see that they were not being overused. Senator Gallagher said it was imperative that the government stepped in at this time to give the mushroom producers a bridge to get over this difficult period and to reasses where they were going.

It seemed to him that there were two main issues, namely the current threat from the fluctuation of sterling and the threat from Polish producers. The Irish producers seemed to have more concern about the first threat, he said, judging by their presentation. He wondered where they saw the industry going in future and were they confident about it? In view of the freefall in the industry he also wondered if they had had any contact with any government department in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum in the UK.

DIAGEO CHAMPION DAIRY COW

BaileysCow.jpegBEST DAIRY COW IS FROM WEXFORD

Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Heather Humphreys T.D. hands over the Virginia Milk Products Cup for the Diageo Baileys Champion All Ireland Cow at the 75th Virginia Show. The top prize of €2500 went to Hallow Advent Twizzle 3, from the Holstein herd owned by Philip and Linda Jones from Killowen, Gorey, Co. Wexford.

TYDAVNET SHOW LAUNCH

LAUNCH OF 65th TYDAVNET SHOW PROGRAMME

Michael Fisher  Northern Standard   Thursday 23rd June

Tydavnet Show is preparing for its 65th event in August, making it one of the longest running and most successful agricultural shows in Ireland. Once again the hard-working voluntary committee has been working busily behind the scenes since the end of last year’s show. It will be a show with something for everyone, young and old, from the cattle and horse enthusiasts to those competing in home industries and those who just want an enjoyable day out.

Every year at the launch of the show programme, the committee invites a guest speaker. In the past, they have included personalities such as the journalist Frank McNally, Mairead McGuinness MEP and last year the former Governor of Mountjoy prison, John Lonergan.

This year’s speaker they invited Tony Ward from Lough Egish. An accountant by profession, he is Director of Finance at “The Wheel”, the leading support and representative network for the community and voluntary sector in Ireland. In an inspirational address, he spoke about losing most of his sight when he was in his mid-20s, and overcoming the setbacks this impairment had brought. In recent years he has completed five marathons and three long-distance cycles, and has represented Ireland in middle distance races in the European and World Athletic Championships. He won a bronze medal in the word cross-country championships in Portugal in 2001.

Tony reminded the audience how in his earlier years he had played football for Aughnamullen and had suffered a number of bad defeats by Scotstown! He explained how he had grown up on a farm. When he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (a degenerative eye disease causing severe vision impairment), he said he was not sure what would happen to him in the future.

65 years of the Tydavnet show was an extraordinary and great testament to the local community. Tydavnet, after all, was not the centre of the universe — a comment that brought laughter from the attendance. But it was an incredible record and proof of a lot of hard work by local people. He pointed out that other Monaghan villages such as Latton, Cremartin, Magheracloone or Killanny did not have their own shows. Mr Ward hoped they would get good weather for the show.

He explained how he was really interested in sport and would sometimes get up early in the morning to go training, when he would usually have someone to accompany him. He spoke of how two winning athletes at the Sydney Olympics had explained that the secret of their success amounted to 10% self-belief, 10% talent and 80% hard work.

He said there was clearly a sense of community and dedication in Tydavnet. Their roots were in farming. The one thing he could think of when he received his diagnosis was the work he did on the farm to assist his father at weekends, putting on his wellingtons and doing chores like milking the cows. When his sight deteriorated he could still go out and bring the cattle into the milking parlour.

Tony told the audience it was really important to preserve country and farming life. He recalled how he used to read through the Tydavnet Show results in the Northern Standard. What the show committee had achieved so far was great and he hoped they would pass it on to the next generation.

PRO Barry Sherry welcomed the sponsors and said the show would not be a success without them. He welcomed representatives of the Armagh and Clogher Valley shows. He said Tydavnet remained one of the major shows in the country. It took a lot of effort and commitment for it to happen, with lots of hard work from the beginning of the year.

After a thirty-year absence they had revitalised the Show Queen competition. They held a very successful night in April when Sinéad McCarey from Barratitoppy was selected for the title. Unfortunately she was not able to join them for the launch of the show programme.

Chair of Tydavnet Show Peggy Treanor from Clontybunnia welcomed the national school pupils who were prizewinners in the art competition for designing the cover of the programme. She also thanked the sponsors, advertisers and judges for their support, as well as the landowners at Drumshevra for making the site available for the show. The stewards, helpers, committee members and officers had also shown dedication and enthusiasm and she thanked them all.

Prizes were presented to the designer of the cover for the show competition schedule and catalogue as follows:

1st prize, Aoibhe Genoe, Magherarney N.S., Smithborough. She received a €50 Eason voucher.

2nd prize, Grace Kelly, Tydavnet N.S.

3rd prize, Eimear Treanor, Tydavnet N.S.

MAIN EVENTS AND TIMES

09.30am Sportsman Jumping (clear round format)           10.00am Horse & In-hand Pony & Cob Classes commence
10.00am Riding Pony & Cob Classes commence
10.00am Home Industries & Juvenile Classes judging begins                                                                             11.00am Dairy & Beef Cattle Classes commence
11.00 a.m. Sheep Classes commence
11.00 a.m. Poultry & Eggs Classes commence
11.00 a.m. Trade Stands, Heritage Crafts, Vintage Exhibits, Demonstrations                                                                 1.00pm-2.00pm Fermanagh Harriers demonstration         2.00pm Working Hunter events commence                       2.00pm Bonny Baby Competition, followed by:             Grandparent and Grandchild Competition
Fancy Dress Competition (McELVANEY CUP)
Most Appropriately Dressed Lady (KERRY-LEE TROPHY)
Most Appropriately Dressed Teenagers
Little Miss Monaghan (3-5 years)                                             Little Mr Monaghan (3-5 years)                                            2.30pm Dog and Pet Show                                                     2.30pm Dancing on the Deck                                                                                               3.00pm approx. Riding for people with a Disability          4.00pm Children’s Fun Races                                           4.30pm Presentation of Cups – Home Industries & Juvenile  5.00pm Removal of Home Industries & Juvenile exhibits 5.00pm Tydavnet’s Fittest Family

 

 

BREXIT REFERENDUM

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Former NI customs post at Inishammon on Fermanagh/Monaghan border near Roslea.  Pic: Michael Fisher

CRUCIAL VOTE TO DECIDE FUTURE OF UNITED KINGDOM IN EUROPEAN UNION

Michael Fisher   Northern Standard  Thursday June 23rd  p.14

HEATHER HUMPHREYS TD

As voters go to the polls today in the six counties of Northern Ireland and Britain to decide on the future of the United Kingdom in the European Union, politicians from various parties in Monaghan and other border areas of the Republic have been urging a “Remain” vote. Minister for Regional Development Heather Humphreys spoke to farmers in Co. Down on Monday evening at an event in Castlewellan organised by SDLP MP Margaret Ritchie.

Minister Humphreys said facts have been drowned out by rhetoric during the referendum campaign. Unfounded allegations had been given the same status as evidence-based research. This had left many people feeling confused and unsure what to do.

As someone who lived on a farm just a couple of miles over the border, this was an issue that was very much close to her heart. Being part of the EU had brought many benefits to Northern Ireland. Britain and Ireland’s membership of the EU had been an important part of building better relationships and in underpinning the right of people in the North to be British, or Irish, or both. There had been hundreds of millions of pounds of PEACE funding. Access to the single market helped to create jobs.

The Minister said she believed, as did her government colleagues in Dublin, that the best interests of this island, north and south, were best served by having the United Kingdom at the heart of Europe – leading, not leaving. She did not underestimate the challenges a ‘leave’ vote could create. This was especially true from a trade perspective, especially for the Irish agri-food sector.

She was very conscious that along the border there had been a very complex set of relationships along the agri-food value chain. Much of the milk produced in the North was processed in the South. Cattle wee fattened in different farms on either side of the border before being slaughtered on one side or the other.

The Ulster Farmers Union had said that no compelling argument had been made that Northern Ireland agriculture would be better off outside the EU. Why risk changing a formula which, whilst imperfect, was delivering for farmers today? Rural communities were the lifeblood of Ulster and had been supported by the EU. Projects like the Rural Community Network or the ARC project in Fermanagh had helped to keep rural communities alive. They helped us take advantage of the stability and certainty which the Good Friday Agreement gave Northern Ireland.

The Minister continued: “Leaving the EU would leave Northern Ireland open to many risks. The Open University economist Leslie Budd concluded that leaving the EU could cost the Northern Ireland economy almost £1bn a year. He said that transaction costs for cross border trade could rise significantly and act as a disincentive to economic co-operation.

The reality would be that, under certain exit conditions, the UK would have the freedom to move away from EU policy. Given the degree of interconnectivity between agriculture and agri-business North and South, any differences would add to the cost and complexity of farming.

Under most scenarios, a British exit from the EU would see the return of some sort of border controls, customs or administrative procedures that would replace the current free movement of goods. One would have to anticipate a higher level of administrative controls than currently exists, with possibly a “hard” border and/or a Border Inspection Post. This was stated by Prime Minister David Cameron last week.

“Inevitably any restoration of the border, even a customs border, would add to farmers’ administrative costs. We all remember the old border in Newry. The queues of trucks. Who wants to go back to that?”, she said. “It is in your interest that the UK, and in particular Northern Ireland, remains in the EU”, she told the farmers.

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Monaghan/Fermanagh border outside Roslea. Pic: Michael Fisher

NIAMH SMYTH TD

Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan Niamh Smyth said voters in the North and across the UK had the chance to further relations North and South of the border if they voted to remain in the European Union.  The Brexit referendum was one of the most historic votes on this island as a vote to leave could have major economic, political and cultural consequences for the whole of Ireland.

Deputy Smyth commented, “The latest opinion polls show the Leave and Remain sides with very little between them.  While Fianna Fáil understands and respects the fact that this is a decision for Britain alone to decide, we cannot ignore the impact of a possible Brexit on Ireland.”

“A recent Standard and Poors report into Brexit stated that there would be “significant reverberations to the Irish economy should the UK leave the EU”.  Not only would a British exit from the EU have direct negative consequences for Ireland in the trade, travel, tourism, agri-food and energy sectors, there are also ramifications politically and culturally.”

“The political relationships North and South of the border, and between the British and Irish Governments, have been simplified by the fact that both are EU members, and this has allowed us to forge common bonds at EU level and to foster good working relationships.  A British exit from the EU would be an immense blow to our capacity to work together to secure lasting peace and stability in Northern Ireland.  The prospect of border controls cannot be ruled out and will most likely depend on the relationship that Britain establishes with the EU in the event of a Brexit.  This would deal a major blow to border counties like Cavan and Monaghan in terms of students and workers who can currently travel freely North and South.”

“Today marks a defining moment in Britain’s relationship with the EU, and it is imperative that those who are registered to vote do so.  Fianna Fáil believes a Brexit is not in the best interests of the island of Ireland and we would encourage people to vote to Remain in the EU”. Deputy Smyth said.

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Traffic crossing the Monaghan/Fermanagh border outside Roslea.  Pic: Michael Fisher

DECLAN KEARNEY MLA

Sinn Féin MLA and National Chairperson Declan Kearney also urged people to vote Remain in the EU referendum. Mr Kearney said: “It is very clear that a Brexit will be bad for the economy on the island, bad for farmers, bad for the environment, bad for workers and communities, bad for young people, and bad for Irish unity.”

“Our people in the North of Ireland should not allow the most reactionary elements of the British Tory party to set our political agenda or Ireland’s economic future and to drag us out of Europe. Brexit has the potential to entrench partition. We are committed to ending partition and don’t want to see the return of border checkpoints between north and south.”

“We have been very critical of the democratic deficit at the heart of the EU but the only way to change that is from within. We want to change the EU and build a progressive, prosperous and social Europe, which respects sovereignty. Sinn Féin is calling on everyone to Put Ireland First and vote Remain in the referendum”, Mr Kearney concluded.

THERESA MAY MP

Meanwhile the British Home Secretary Theresa May has warned of border controls in the event of a Brexit. She was speaking during a visit to Northern Ireland to campaign for a remain vote in the referendum.

Theresa May said it was “inconceivable” that there would not be changes to current arrangements between the North and the Republic if the UK voted to leave the EU. Ms May said that, while the Common Travel Area between the two countries existed prior to the EU, if there was a Brexit some form of control would be inevitable.

“It is inconceivable that a vote for Brexit would not have a negative impact on the North/South Border, bringing cost and disruption to trade and to people’s lives,” she said. “Put simply, Northern Ireland outside the EU could not prevent free movement and continue with an open North/South Border.”

Ms May also claimed the economic argument for Northern Ireland to vote remain was compelling. TOM KELLY, the Stronger In chairman in the North, said the Remain campaign was concentrating on getting people out to vote today. “I am very confident that we will win the argument,” he said.

ARLENE FOSTER MLA

However the Northern Ireland First Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster is urging a ‘leave’ vote. She said she had listened to the arguments on all sides of the debate and after full and careful consideration had reached the conclusion that the right answer was to vote to leave the EU and to take back control of the UK’s future.

“Firstly there is the matter of the democratic principle. I am a devolutionist and believe decisions should be as close to the people as possible.  The European Union is pulling power and decision-making further away.  A return of powers would not simply flow to London but to Belfast too.”

“I believe in accountability. The decision-makers should have to answer to their voters.  The unelected European Commission plays the central and decisive role in EU policy and law making. European Court rulings can have far reaching consequences for us. The process of getting agreement between 28 countries and the use of qualified majority voting has given us a cumbersome process, where our interests can be and often are harmed.”

She continued: “Those who want to push towards a new superstate have already produced their plans and want to create more common institutions like an EU Army.  The golden opportunity to change was refused in the recent renegotiation. Secondly, we have the matter of costs and benefits. The UK as a whole has been a net contributor. The difference between what we pay in and get back has quadrupled in the last four years.”

“The UK has a huge trade deficit with the EU. Globally, the EU is falling behind.  The only continent with worse growth than continental Europe is Antartica.  The EU is not just holding us back but many other countries through its waste, bureaucracy and the straitjacket of the single currency.”

“Thirdly, I see the opportunities.  Many commentators have asked how as a former economy minister do I support a Vote Leave?  It was because of my experiences that I believe it is the right choice.  I have been across the world and I have seen the opportunities that are out there for the taking. I have seen Northern Ireland businesses take them up.  This fills me with confidence and the will to go after them.  I have also seen how power flowing down works best”, she said.

“This is why I am convinced that taking control of our future is the way forward for Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom. I must admit my resolve in this has grown and grown as the EU referendum campaign has developed.”

“Our constitutional future will be decided only by the ballot box. With devolution, people in Northern Ireland have more power over their elected representatives than ever before and we now have both a government and an opposition. This referendum holds true to that principle.”

“Finally, there is one threat to our peace process and one threat alone. Those paramilitary organisations who remain intent on killing are the threat to our peace. A threat the security forces deserve our praise and support for combating every day.

It is deeply offensive to present the people of Northern Ireland as ready to return to violence in the blink of an eye, especially over a democratic vote.  I know, I trust and I wholeheartedly believe we are better than that and those who have made such claims should know better as well.”

“I believe in the people of Northern Ireland. I believe in the businesses of Northern Ireland. I believe in what can they can achieve.  This is why I reject the absurd predictions and exaggerated threats. This is why I look to the future and the opportunities after the 23rd June. This is why I am asking you to Vote Leave.”

Polling stations in the North will remain open until 10pm this evening and it will be Friday when the outcome of the referendum is known.

MAINTAINING QUALITY BEEF

ABP CLONES: A VITAL PART OF BEEF INDUSTRY

Northern Standard reporter Michael Fisher was among a group from the Guild of Agricultural Journalists invited to tour the ABP meat plant at Clones last Thursday. The company organised a visit to a local beef farmer near Carrickmacross and sponsored a barbeque and dinner. The event was organised three months ago. NORTHERN STANDARD Thursday 16th June 2016 p.14

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ABP Clones General Manager George Mullan with a group from the Guild of Agricultural Journalists. Photo courtesy of ABP.

QUALITY IRISH BEEF

Irish beef has begun to re-establish its first class reputation on the menus of leading restaurants and the shelves of supermarkets in Britain and Europe. The Bord Bia Origin Green scheme of which the ABP Group is a founder member emphasises sustainability and the reduction of environmental impact. So any development in the agri-sector that could affect the reputation of quality beef is potentially worrying.

The ABP Group owned by businessman Larry Goodman is the largest beef processor in Ireland and the UK. It is proud of its record in producing quality Irish beef mainly for export to the United Kingdom and Europe. Various measures are taken at processing plants such as Clones to ensure that high standards are maintained at all times.

Visits to the ABP factory in Clones are strictly regulated. Human hygiene is crucial, as in any meat or food plant. On entry to the plant, visitors must wear protective clothing and hairnets, as well as removing jewellery. Footwear must be replaced by wellington boots, which are scrubbed meticulously in a special walk-through unit before entry is permitted to the boning and other sections. Hands must be washed and disinfectant gels applied.

The boning plant has different sections and each part of the animal carcass is used up along the line, starting with the hide. By-products are sent to some of the company’s other units.

The top class steak cuts were skillfully removed and later packaged, labelled with ABP’s own brand. In the packing hall differently coloured boxes indicated the various countries the meat was destined for, such as the Netherlands, Germany and Italy.

TRACEABILITY

Veterinary inspectors from the Department of Agriculture check the carcasses and stamp them before they are processed. Each carcass is given a tag with details of the farm it came from and where it was slaughtered. Photographs are taken of each individual carcass as it passes along the production line. New tags with barcodes are attached and after chilling they are sent to the boning hall. This is to ensure traceability of the meat to help reassure customers at the end of the food chain and to ensure quality can be maintained.

The tour of the plant then moves outside to the lairage facility where cattle arrive to be processed. The ABP Food Group say animal welfare is a cornerstone of their business, so they have invested heavily in ensuring that customers can be 100% secure in the integrity of their processes.

The company source farm-assured cattle from throughout Ireland (including Co. Monaghan) and the UK. Although the fields of Co. Fermanagh are just a stone’s throw away, the company processes only cattle from the Republic, within a 50 mile distance of the plant. This is because there are special regulations for processing cattle from the North and they could not be handled at the same time as animals from the Republic.

ABP worked closely with the bestselling author and world-renowned livestock-expert Dr Temple Grandin to design and plan their facilities and procedures. She approved every aspect of the holding pens (lairage), assisting the company’s goal to ensure cattle are relaxed and stress-free prior to slaughter. There is a special slat rubber system for the cattle to walk on. Not only does this give livestock the respect and integrity they deserve, but the lower pre-mortem glycogen levels and PH balance of stress-free animals make for a higher quality and tenderness of carcass, according to ABP.

Dr Grandin campaigned to reduce the prodding of cattle with electric goads by showing a humane approach makes much better quality meat. She designed the lairage with curved solid walls, baffled gate latches to cut down noise, and uniform colour and lighting to reduce stress on the cattle. The curved walls ensure each animal is prevented from seeing what lies ahead and just concentrates on the hind quarters of the animal in front of it.

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ABP Clones General Manager George Mullan (right) explaining the various stages of processing at the meat plant to Michael Fisher. Photo courtesy of ABP.

George Mullan, general manager of ABP Clones, who showed the visiting group around the plant, said since the lairage was opened three years ago he had noticed a huge difference in the behaviour of cattle at the plant. They’re happier animals and calmer at all times, he said. “Animal welfare is a very major concern of the consumer in this present day”, he added.

Mr Mullan explained how following slaughter the patented hanging process increased the natural breakdown of muscle fibres in each carcass while it hung and matured prior to de-boning. ABP Food Group has also created a method of sympathetically chilling the carcass to prevent cold shortening and guarantee absolute tenderness in the beef.

The Managing Director of ABP Beef (Ireland) Finbarr McDonnell outlined the group’s four divisions. ABP Food Group Ireland is Europe’s leading beef exporter, specialising in beef processing, de-boning and retail packing. It has a long tradition of working with farmers and customers, operating highly efficient factories supplying quality beef to European and worldwide retail markets.

The UK branch of ABP is a leading supplier of fresh and frozen meat and meat-free products. It continues to drive innovation in every aspect of business, including collaborative partnerships with customers, to industry leading practices in processing and product development. The ABP Ellesmere development near Liverpool is an example of embedding sustainability at the heart of the company’s operations. Over £20million has been invested to make this plant a carbon neutral operation.

ABP Pet Foods is one of Europe’s leading manufacturers of private label pet food, producing 570,000 tonnes every year from seven facilities. C&D Foods with headquarters in Mullingar is headed by Philip Reynolds, whose father set up the original company. Philip sold a majority interest in the business to ABP in 2011.

The fourth arm of the group is Olleco, the largest collector of used cooking oil in these islands, employing 550 people. It helps many of the biggest restaurants and catering groups to maximise the environmentally sustainable treatment of waste food and oil products.

More than 30 years ago used cooking oil was collected and used in animal feed. When this was banned owing to tighter regulations, a huge amount of used cooking oil ended up in landfill or was illegally poured into drains. Olleco looked at other ways to recover the value from this resource. The company started to collect both used cooking oil and food waste and convert them into renewable energy instead of throwing it away.

With fourteen depots across the UK the company is one of the UK’s largest distributors of cooking oils to the catering trade. In 2013 a specialist biodiesel plant was constructed in Liverpool. Capable of producing 16 million litres of biodiesel it is the UK’s largest purpose built plant dedicated to producing biodiesel from used cooking oil. Two years later Olleco opened the first anaerobic digestion plant, providing the heat and power to operate the biodiesel plant. Tallow is collected at the Clones plant and is sent to England for processing.

Finbarr McDonnell joined ABP in 1973 and held a variety of positions with the company including Group Production Manager and Factory Manager at the Cahir plant. He was appointed Chief Executive of ABP Beef (Ireland) in January 2008. He predicted that with a market turning its back on Friesian types and a re-nationalisation of the French market, cattle prices could be hit in the latter half of 2016.

“It is unfortunate that sterling is where it is and unfortunate that live exports are dead in the water,” he told the Guild of Agricultural Journalists. He urged the country’s expanding dairy sector to prioritise cross-breeding with the traditional Irish Hereford and Angus breeds for which ABP were pushing an open door on export markets. He said the company was ‘concerned’ about how the Brexit referendum next Thursday might turn out.

Mr McDonnell said the market was now ten times more in favour of Hereford and Angus than Friesian beef, adding that he was “very worried” about the consequences for the progeny of dairy farms unless they adapted to breeding more for market requirements. ABP currently handled over a fifth of national output, equivalent to 125,000t per year. It planned to expand further on its 41 sites within the EU employing up to 9000 people. The company was optimistic of a successful outcome to its bid to buy 50pc of Slaney Foods within the coming weeks. The move would result in ABP controlling 28% of the national beef kill.

A year ago ABP Food Group completed a €50 million redevelopment of its facilities in Cahir, Co. Tipperary. It included an extension and upgrade of food processing facilities as well as the introduction of a new state-of-the-art gel bone production plant at its neighbouring by-products site. A report by Oxford Economics and KPMG found that the upgraded facilities employing over 600 people are expected to be worth over €200 million a year to the local economy in Tipperary and surrounding counties.

The plant in Clones employs around 300, with 60% of the staff coming from abroad, including Lithuania and Poland. Based on the Cahir study, this would indicate that the Teehill factory brings in a benefit of around €100 million a year to Co. Monaghan and the surrounding area. This is taking into account employment created by the factory in subsidiary areas like haulage and canteen supplies. ABP is one of the largest employers in the county. It also contributes to the local community through charitable activities such as sport.

THE SUPPLIERS

Freddie and Caroline Merrin farm land at Ballyloughan, Lough Fea, outside Carrickmacross. The Merrins operate a weanling to beef system and have received Bord Bia awards for their product. They are members of the 150-strong Monaghan Quality Cattle Producer Group that supplies cattle to ABP in Clones. Freddie is originally from Killanny and Caroline comes from Kells, Co. Meath.

The farm is 170 acres and there is a similar acreage on a long-term lease from the adjoining Lough Fea estate. The Merrins are helped by their three children, Emma, George, and Linda, a Leaving Certificate student at St Louis secondary school, Carrickmacross. Emma and George are both attend UCD, studying history and science respectively.

Weanlings are grazed and finished out of the shed as either bulls or steers the following winter. The sheds are multi-functional and there is a huge emphasis on grass utilisation. At the moment there are around 700 cattle on the farm. Freddie bought in 350 calves over a five-week period starting in mid-February. He would usually go to the mart in Bandon to buy them.

After a spell in the sheds the calves are out out to grass between mid-May and mid-June. Bull calves would usually be brought to be killed before 24 months and heifer calves before 20 months. When it came to sending them to the factory there could be no room for sentimentality, Freddie said.

ABP Group Livestock Manager Paul Mathews said the company was investing in genetics and had its own herd for research. He said they needed to build up a strong database about breeds and they were working alongside the Irish Aberdeen Angus Association. The Merrins enterprise was one of the best examples of a family farm amongst their suppliers, according to the company.

 

BRITISH DAIRY GOLD CUP

TYRONE FARMERS IN FINAL FOR BRITISH DAIRY GOLD CUP

 Michael Fisher  Northern Standard Thursday 9th June 2016 p.9

Two Tyrone farmers will be in contention for the prestigious Gold Cup at this year’s British Dairy Farmers Livestock Event in Birmingham. It’s the premier UK national dairy herds competition, recognising efficiency in commercial milk production. Entry to the event on July 6th and 7th at the National Exhibition Centre outside Birmingham is free for all visitors.

David Irwin and his father Alan run a herd of 170 redhouse Holsteins at their farm near Benburb. The farm is located near the River Blackwater in the townland of Derrycreevy. The other family members involved in the enterprise are William Irwin, Ida, Sylvia, and Jayne.

Their land comprises approximately 240 acres of grassland and cereals. A lot of it is too steep or too wet for cutting silage or growing cereals. Most of the land is heavy soil over red clay.

Approximately 120 acres of silage is made in each of three cuts to supply the stock with forage all year round. Fifty acres of spring barley is grown each year to supply whole grain cereals and straw for feeding to stock.

The farm was initially a mixed dairy, beef and arable farm. The cows were lost to brucellosis in 1974. The present herd started in 1979 with bought in heifer calves in 1977. No stock has been purchased since 1979. The dairy herd was increased and beef gradually phased out, until the present day herd of cows and replacements.

The cows are milked three times a day and the milk is sold to Fane Valley Co-op. All the work is carried out on the farm by the Irwin family and two full-time employees. The work undertaken includes all silage making, slurry spreading and cereal making.

The second Tyrone farmer to compete in the Gold Cup final is Adrian McFarland from Omagh. The two Northern Ireland entrants will be up against two competitors from Scotland, one from Wales and one from England.

The annual event is organised by the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers and attracts more than 400 exhibitors covering thirteen unique product zones. Exhibitors are on hand during the two-day event to demonstrate all-new equipment, products and services to over 17,000 UK and International livestock farmers.

The Gold Cup is the top award in British dairy farming and is open to all dairy herds with official milk records and meeting the criteria of at least 100 cows in the herd,  an annual average cell count of 200,000/ml or less and a £PLI value which is breed specific. Entrants complete a detailed questionnaire giving herd performance data, including production, feed, health and fertility information.

Finalists are selected and visited by the team of judges, and each finalist is judged on factors such as physical and management performance, environmental schemes and their future plans for the dairy business. The winner will be announced and presented with the Gold Cup at the Livestock Event.

The main focus of the event is to share information, ideas and practical advice to help farm businesses survive the next eighteen months. The RABDF Chief Executive Nick Everington told journalists in Belfast: “Times are tough. We are conscious that falling incomes in the livestock sector are continuing to have a severe impact, particularly in dairying. Consequently as a charity representing farmers, the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers is attempting to support the future of farming businesses, where it can.”

“That’s why we have organised this year’s focus at the Livestock Event to be all about helping farmers drive resilience into their businesses. What’s more we have agreed to offer free entry to all visitors; they will have an opportunity to think outside the box and collect a day’s worth of ideas, information and advice to take home from under one roof, and all without charge.”

“Whilst the event has attracted over 350 trade stands, including some companies from Ireland, we are also proud to launch several new technical features, demonstrations and presentations and to have redeveloped new ones. Visitors will be able to find out about relevant products and concepts that will save money and keep on track, and investigate the latest new products and innovation – future investment, staying ahead of the game. We’re expecting over 100 new products to be available, including more than thirty to be launched at the event.”

British Agriculture Minister George Eustice MP will officially open the event on the first day, and will be responding to visitors’ queries on the outcome of the Brexit referendum and its implications for the industry’s future. The Association itself has adopted a neutral stand on the issue.

Mr Everington adds: “We are looking forward to welcoming farmers, stockmen, students, vets, consultants and suppliers, arriving with an open mind and being prepared to embrace change. The future is in their hands.” To pre-register for a free ticket see www.livestockevent.co.uk.

Flights from Belfast and Dublin to Birmingham arrive at the international airport, which is within walking distance of the National Exhibition Centre. TravelSolutions of Belfast (tel. 048-90455030) can provide a booking service for individuals or groups.

Among the key features of this year’s event are:

Forage Field: designed to help all livestock farmers learn more about how to exploit the massive potential of home grown forage, in particular grass, the most cost efficient feed. Forage Field is a hands on practical area that will be split in to two; making more from grass and forage options, and saving silage costs by reducing dry matter losses and improving clamp consolidation.

Calf rearing demonstrations: showcasing a variety of feeding and housing systems including live calves in igloos, conventional and specialist buildings, all of which are designed to improve rearing efficiency of both dairy and beef calves. The feature will be complemented by a series of knowledge sharing seminars delivered by leading youngstock specialists discussing the latest in nutrition and management.

Machinery Demonstration Arena: a new working demonstration featuring mixer wagons, loaders, bedders and straw choppers – essential kit for most intensive dairy and beef farms. Visitors will be able to observe and compare models and weigh up the cost saving opportunities as they are put through their paces.

Foot trimming / Healthy Feet: return of one of the most popular demonstrations. Foot trimming will feature the Dutch Five Step method using both a knife and grinder repeated four times each day, and supported with independent commentary and additional information on locomotion. Healthy Feet is a practical workshop, supported by AHDB, designed to help farmers understand more clearly what causes lameness, its impact and how to reduce incidences. Each session will focus on how to recognise lameness in the early stages, followed by prompt and effective treatment.

Livestock Learning: a new conference theatre designed to offer all dairy, beef and sheep farmers practical advice delivered by specialists and covering a comprehensive range of topics from health to grassland livestock systems. There will also be an opportunity to ‘ask the farmer’, with some of the UK’s award winning farmers taking to the platform.

RABDF Presentations Forum: an opportunity for livestock farmers to glean useful information on a wide range of subjects affecting their businesses including; Decisions4Dairy, tools for survival, how to sell milk at £2 per litre (a niche market for unpasteurised milk), controlling Johne’s and dealing with farm safety issues. It’s estimated that 60% of British dairy farmers do not know the rolling costs of their milk production.

 Beef Arena: another new feature focused on measuring and monitoring to help all rearers and finishers improve their management systems. The arena will feature live EID demonstrations of leading equipment; livestock specialist Miriam Parker will talk through handling systems whilst the central area will be dedicated to weigh crates, cells and accompanying software.

Livestock showing: dairy, beef and sheep will all feature in the show ring: six different breeds within the National Dairy Show including Ayrshire, Brown Swiss and British Friesian cattle societies each staging their national shows, along with British Charolais Cattle Society, the South Devon Herd Book Society will be holdings its second performance championship. The Lleyn Sheep Society will be highlighting what this commercial sheep breed has to offer.