6 September 2019 No Comments by The Northern Standard

Whether it’s the beef crisis or Brexit or job losses or the interconnector issue, one thing shines through very clearly from the variously grim-shaded clouds surrounding the major news stories vying for local, national and international attention this week: the art of constructive dialogue seems to be becoming a vanishing one.

Hopefully the emergence this week of a new representative entity for the beef farmers conceived to give them an effective voice in any resumption of the discussions towards resolving the crisis in their sector will help defrost the climate sufficiently for the situation to be resolved around the negotiating table rather than at the gates of the meat factories.

The breakdown of the recent discussions left farmers feeling frustrated and angry. Subsequent legal action by the processors to prevent the staging of protests which they saw as imperilling the viability of their factories and jeopardising future trade deals acted as a red rag to a bull to the beefmen, and the mood among those who went on the unofficial picketlines at various parts of the country this week was even more militant and defiant as a result.

The arrest of a protestor in Ballyjamesduff and some incidents of disorder in and around some of the pickets threatened for a time to precipitate the situation into one of deep rancour. But efforts earlier this week by the newly formed Independent Farmers of Ireland to bring a representative consensus to the selection of the voices who will advocate for the sector in any resumed negotiations were a commendable effort to defuse the situation and refocus the minds of all stakeholders on the mutual interest they should share in ensuring that the Irish family farm, the source of much of the raw material that keeps employment in this country going, was placed on a sustainable footing for the future.

It was clear from the music hall atmosphere which reigned in the House of Commons on Tuesday evening that constructive dialogue has long since been banished from the Brexit debate in the UK by demagoguery, grandstanding and the worst species of political bluster. From the “languid lounging” of Jacob Rees-Mogg – perhaps the most eloquent contribution to the proceedings – to the bullying rhetoric of Boris Johnson, it was a night of ignominy for the once storied ‘Mother of Parliaments’ whose reputation was once more sullied by its illegitimate offspring.

Whatever emerges from the latest Westminster shenanigans, those who are perpetrating them, as insularly focused and divorced from reality as many of them are, surely cannot be blind to the dangerous game they are playing with the patience of the British people. A strong tide of civil unrest is surely waiting to engulf the landscape of the chaotic political entity which is charged with ensuring the divorce from the European Union is achieved as painlessly and efficiently as possible. This task would be an extremely demanding one even in a properly balanced political climate for even the most felicitous and experienced practitioner of the political arts – giving the mixture of high farce and low comedy that is the prevailing parliamentary atmosphere in the UK at the present time, and given the limitations in ability and imagination of the ever- altering Johnson Cabinet, the challenge is surely an insuperable one.

While it would be nice to think that constructive dialogue would resolve the Brexit fiasco, the only realistic way for sense to be brought to bear on the situation is for the people of the UK to take back control of their country from those who have so arrantly betrayed the trust that has been reposed in them – it would be preferable for this to happen through the ballot box, but if Mr Johnson and his cronies are not very careful, it will assuredly happen through turbulent civil unrest.

Constructive dialogue might not have resolved the problems which led to Lakeland Dairies taking the decision announced last Friday to make 68 workers redundant at the LacPatrick processing facility in Monaghan Town. But a greater level of discussion with workers’ representatives might have lessened the shock of the news, and greater liaison between the parent company and local political representatives might have led to a more reassuring sense of all alternative avenues having been explored before the inevitable hard decision was made.

What we are left with instead is a hard situation rendered more difficult by the anger being expressed by national political voices such as Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, who was closely involved in recent dialogue regarding the issues prevailing at the Monaghan plant and who in the columns of this newspaper this week expresses anger and disappointment that correspondence he recently sent to the Chief Executive of Lakeland Dairies went unanswered. This has led Deputy Ó Caoláin to pose a number of his own so far unanswered questions about the merger between Lakeland and LacPatrick that deserve to be addressed. Hopefully clarity will be brought to bear on the issues that concern the SF Deputy when the implications of the redundancy announcement have been fully absorbed – and a clear picture emerges that will reassure those in the North Monaghan region that an entity that was once one of the most prosperous and progressive of its type in the country still has a viable future and a role to play in the economic and employment life of its town and hinterland.

Chief Executive of Monaghan Co Council Eamonn O’Sullivan made his own strong case on the importance of constructive and inclusive dialogue at Monday’s local authority meeting when chastising Cathaoirleach Seamus Coyle for giving him insufficient notice of a number of questions he raised with regard to the ever-contentious EirGrid north-south interconnector project.

It was perhaps ironic that the resultant mild tension between executive and elected member that arose in the Council chamber on Monday was precipitated by the content of promotional material circulated by EirGrid in a newsletter and in an advertisement in this newspaper.
Mr O’Sullivan emphatically refuted the impression this material created in the minds of some councillors and anti- pylon campaigns that there had been some intensive and perhaps clandestine round of dialogue between EirGrid and its agents and local authorities in the region to progress the project.

And in registering unhappiness at not being given sufficient preparatory time to answer other queries which came to the mind of the Cathaoirleach and other councillors, the Chief Executive was conveying a salutary reminder that clarity can only be brought to bear on issues such as the interconnector – and actuality separated from spin – by mutually respectful approaches that place the emphasis on facts emerging in clear and unambiguous terms.

Mr O’Sullivan was, in other words, standing up for the principles of constructive dialogue.

Hopefully, the meat factories, the Tories, Lakeland and EirGrid will follow suit.

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