“I want to know if the Minister is going to put pressure on these factories.” ..”

If you think that ‘policy issues’ don’t apply in Northern Ireland, listen to Jim, a farmer from Co Armagh. “There is something morally wrong here” he says. He’s less than complementary about the Minister who has been most notable by her absence.

Whilst Simon Coveney is all over what is clearly a bad situation that is going to get much worse before it gets better, our minister is nowhere to be seen. On Nolan this morning a fellow party member of the health committee was sent in to bat on her behalf.

It is NO part of a committee members job to bat for a minister. It is very much a part of their job to take the whole damned Executive to account for a situation that is clearly out of its control.

A drifting ship without a rudder…

  • “our minister is nowhere to be seen”

    If you take a literal view of that comment, I’m sure someone will have seen her delivering Francie Molloy leaflets in Mid Ulster at the week-end.

  • Drumlins Rock

    O’Dowd did plenty of batting for Ruane. O’Neill appears a little bit more competent, but you get the impression she could get out of her depth very quickly. The meat industry is crucial in South Tyrone, SF can’t afford to take risks on this but they can take the votes for granted in these rural areas it will take a major disaster for to change anything.

  • iluvni

    Didn’t Jim also say he voted for her. Maybe he’ll review his reasons for doing so in the future.

  • BarneyT

    Its been mentioned before, but would it suit the SF agenda to have a successful and independent NI department of agriculture and all that goes with it? A few failings could cause sufficient concern below to provoke a call for an all island approach to agriculture….one more step towards the ultimate goal?

  • Boglover

    On 25 Jan, O’Neill was at Loughry when Simon Coveney arrived to tell the assembled farmers/producers about CAP reform. He’d arrived over an hour late. The reason? He’d stopped off at Silverhill Foods to be briefed about the horsemeat issue, so she can hardly claim lack of awareness about the issue.

    The comparison between the 2 Ministers was stark; she gabbled through a prepared script and and nothing of import to say, whilst he was relaxed, convivial and completely on top of his brief.

    I know we don’t have a wealth of talent in our politicians here, but she is pretty low down the ranking of a pretty mediocre bunch. To use the well worn phrase, we definitely get the politicians we deserve.

  • babyface finlayson

    As bad as the unimpressive O’Neill is our old boss Owen Paterson. He has seemed like a rabbit in the headlights in recent interviews
    Is the meat safe? Yes he would eat it himself.
    But we don’t know what’s in it.
    Well I’m sure the industry will be more careful.
    A man trying to close the stable doors after the horse has been bolted.

  • Good rhetoric — but wrong target?

    What is becoming obvious is that the UK government bureaucracy is not up to snuff. What’s happening in the UK is — we are told — not to do with public health, but in the main good, old-fashioned fraud. Indeed, that’s exactly how Hansard, yesterday, headlined Paterson’s statement: Horsemeat (Food Fraud).

    The horse-meat saga started with analysis done for the Irish authorities [FSAI]. Remind me, someone, why they were suspicious. As far as I can discover, most of the testing has to be done in Germany. Is that the only competent authority?

    Only then did the UK Food Standards Agency get involved — and that because of what appears to be a blatant misleading of consumers; and [same source] Paterson whinging: ‘This is absolutely shocking. It’s totally unacceptable if any business in the UK is defrauding the public by passing off horsemeat as beef. I expect the full force of the law to be brought down on anyone involved in this kind of activity.’ Read between the lines of yesterday’s Hansard for how bad a time, and what a bad fist he made of it. There is, incidentally, three weeks on, still no formal referral to the police.

    Paterson (or his officials) seems to have steered very close to ‘misleading the House’. On Friday we were told he was busy at his desk. In fact he had gone home for the weekend; and needed a shrill whistle to come back. At that point he hadn’t even met the food industry.

    Back track to what the Food Standard Agency says it is doing. 28 local authorities (‘UK Food Surveillance System users’ — and haven’t they done well, so far?) across the whole UK have been instructed to collect eight samples each (224 samples in all). These will be tested by the public analyst retained severally by the local authorities. Report back to FSA by 11th March; FSA publishes by 8th April. All seems terribly leisurely to me. And hardly concerted or co-ordinated.

    It couldn’t be — could it? — that party prejudices are the root cause here. Selling off the veterinary labs was (as I dimly recall) one of the final acts of the John Major government in April 1997. One of the first acts of austerity by the present government was to make labelling no longer the remit of the FSA. Last year we had the LibDem think-tank (I know: sounds oxymoronic), CentreForum, proposing that all government research labs should be privatised. Last December the equine database was shut down. Surely no coincidence?

  • Correction (or up-date) to the previous.

    Suddenly it is announced that Peter Boddy Licensed Slaughterhouse, in Todmorden, West Yorkshire, and Farmbox Meats Ltd, of Llandre near Aberystwyth have been raided by the FSA, supported by the police:

    The Food Standards Agency suspended operations at both the raided premises, detained all meat found and seized paperwork, including customer lists from the two companies.

    The West Yorkshire plant was thought to have supplied horse carcasses to the Aberystwyth plant, which were then allegedly sold on as beef for kebabs and burgers.

    [BBC News web-site.]

    Convenient, huh?

    Especially when that is put alongside the press briefing of yesterday — that it was all down to changes in EU regulations — and, in particular, the emphasis of Paterson’s statement in the House:

    Food regulation is an area of European competence. Under the European legal framework, main responsibility for the safety and authenticity of food lies with those who produce, sell or provide it to the customer…
    The ultimate source of these incidents is still being investigated, but it is already clear that we are dealing with Europe-wide supply networks. I am taking action to ensure effective liaison with the European Commission and other member states, and I have been in touch with Irish Minister Simon Coveney on several occasions since 28 January. I have spoken to him twice again today and have also spoken to European Commissioner Borg, the French Minister Stéphane Le Foll and Romanian Minister Daniel Constantin. I emphasised the need for rapid and effective action, and I am grateful for the good co-operation there has already been.

    And, for sure, Todmorden to Aberystwyth is entirely a Europe-wide supply network — which, looking at the graphic in today’s Guardian, is what someone, somewhere was seeking to prove.

  • Malcolm, put together the price differential between horse meat and other meat, our expertise in organised crime and light touch government regulation and you’ve got the ingredients for a Whitehall farce.

  • Nevin @ 9:07 pm:

    Not to mention Lord Rix’s trousers (a good man — in his ninetieth year, and still going — in a naughty-naughty world).

  • The Raven

    Of course, Malcolm, it is also worth wondering if this would have gone on to the same extent if the Food Standards Agency’s remit hadn’t shrunk so over the past couple of years.

    I’m happy to be corrected on this, but if memory serves right, the FSA led the charge on salt reduction in food, traffic light coding on food. More importantly – and again, I stand to be corrected – was their role in the inspection of farms and food processing not removed too? As was the issue of nutrition?

    So back to DEFRA for the inspection of farms and food processing plants. (If ever there was a distasteful phrase, ‘food processing’ has to be it). Department of Health for nutrition.

    Would it be silly of me to wonder if restructuring of remits from an arms-length body – that up til 2010 was pretty much considered to be doing a good job – and cuts to subsequent government departments has helped to fuel this farce…?

    That of course, is the Mainland part of the issue. Don’t get in the way of the trade was always the English way. I couldn’t possibly comment on the ability of our minister to grab the rudder.

    Having tried to help someone make the move from small-holding into specialist pork growing, DARD – and I suggest DEFRA – don’t want small-holders. They don’t want farm shops. They want large scale industrial operations, with minimum fuss and maximum control. And I suggest they don’t really want to bothered with silly notions like quality, “pure” food, home-growing and alternative notions of feeding a nation.

    This is where it gets us.

  • son of sam

    Drumlins Rock is right.In the current set up there is no penalty for an incompetent or inadequate Minister.At the next Assembly elections,it is unlikely that there will be any noticeable reduction in Minister O’Neill’s vote.No doubt any reservations that Sinn Fein supporting farmers have at the moment ,will have been long forgotten in a few years time.

  • One of the sagest remarks here — not to dismiss those of others — was that of The Raven @ 9:52 pm :

    DARD – and I suggest DEFRA – don’t want small-holders. They don’t want farm shops. They want large scale industrial operations, with minimum fuss and maximum control.

    All ringingly true, except that any control was delegated to the food-chains (which means, in practice, the big supermarkets). I’d not deny that all the UK political parties (with the honourable exception of the Greens) were complicit.

    Even so, the rot set in long ago, when ‘farming’ (a physical involvement and term I understand) was displaced by the abstract ‘agriculture’ (which covers a whole confessional of sins) on the way to be becoming ‘agribusiness’. Fortunately, with the rarest of exceptions, that last transmogrification hasn’t infected Ulster too badly yet.

    For me, the perfect emetic on how Orwellian officialese has taken over my digestive tract came when I read up the differences between ‘meat’, ‘mechanically removed meat’ and ‘mechanically stripped meat’.

    One last thing: I’d not be too hard on the DARD and its ministers, who are only the little fleas on the back of Paterson’s bigger ones, who, in ordered sequence, can blame the EU-syphonaptera:

    The vermin only teaze and pinch
    Their foes superior by an inch.
    So, naturalists observe, a flea
    Has smaller fleas that on him prey;
    And these have smaller still to bite ‘em,
    And so proceed ad infinitum.

    After all, food safety should still be a UK-wide issue for the FSA.

  • Blissett

    Have to say, of all Ministers Coveney has been far and away the most competent and impressive. Very much on top of his brief, and very good communicator. Probably hasn’t got the plaudits because its not as high profile as some of the other briefs, but has been impressive since the general election, and has really been outstanding in this current difficulty, looks as if Irish beef industry will come out of this in fairly ok condition

  • streetlegal

    If I hear the agriculture minister saying ‘from the field to the fork’ parrot fashion one more time I’ll break the set. Of course the credit for this particular sound bite goes to some senior official in Dundonald House who is in receipt of huge amounts of public money to spoon feed the minister with such tripe.