1 October 2021 No Comments by The Northern Standard


Co Monaghan’s vitally important agri-food sector finds itself assailed by a number of significant pressures at the present time that our politicians, farm and business organisations should be monitoring with close care. The problem of labour shortages and the difficulties being presented for mushroom, poultry and meat producers was raised in Seanad Éireann in the last week by Fianna Fáil Senator Robbie Gallagher. Senator Gallagher identified the problem as arising from the time it now took to process employment permit applications, significant because of the extent to which the sectors concerned depend on workers coming from other countries to cope with the intensification of production which arises in some of the sectors between now and the end of the year.

But the current problem as outlined by Senator Gallagher and commented upon by Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment Michael English TD is not prompted by entirely seasonal considerations. it is something which the major producers in the county and elsewhere have been grappling with for some time as the timeframe for the processing of employment applications has steadily lengthened because of the level of demand and the consequent pressures on the staff dealing with the matter.

A pilot scheme introduced in 2018 to address immediate labour sourcing needs released some of the pressure for a time, but the quotas provided for under the scheme have lapsed. The short-term fix should have allowed time for the Government to introduce a more streamlined system for the sectors concerned and it is regrettable that some serious attention was not given to the matter while the pilot scheme was in place. Minister English has promised the allocation of additional staff to the matter but this will hardly produce the overall of the system needed if these problems are not to continually recur.

The area is a complicated one – labour shortages have to be vouched as genuine and it must be established that in taking in employees from outside the European Economic area, no suitably qualified Irish or EEA nationals are available to do the work. it is also a sensitive and sometimes provocative one – there is occasionally a, usually misinformed, perception that the local labour market has been overlooked when workers are brought in from abroad to fill a skills gap or a particular labour need. Hopefully the extra hands at the pump promised by the Minister of State will alleviate the immediate needs of some of this county’s most important facets of agri-business production as they head into a crucial period of intensified market demand. But if there is not some serious thought given to reviewing the permit procedure as it applies to agribusiness, then similar problems will recur in the future and a shadow will continue to hang over the relevant sectors that is not helpful to their development. Surely this is a matter for the Oireachtas Committee on agriculture to address and take soundings on from all relevant stakeholders.

Mushroom growers and the horticultural sector in general are of course facing another very serious production challenge because of its reliance on the harvesting of peat and the complicated licensing and planning regime which now attaches to harvesting following a high court ruling in September 2019. This has effectively led to the cessation of meaningful harvesting of peat from Irish bogs and raised the prospect of horticulture growers, If they are to survive, having to rely on imports from Europe, comprising the green credentials on which they found their marketing and quality assurance strategies.

Peat is by no means plentiful in other parts of Europe either, and producers hear face the unpalatable prospect of paying gold for the vital material – and maybe having their orders refused even if the gold is to hand. Some potential solutions to the dilemma were posited in a consultation group report, but the conflicting agendas of the parties in Government at present and a lack of a coherent political stance in general to the matter has seen very little progress in test-driving or implementing them. Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue TD really needs to grasp the nettle on this one.

So conspicuously successful has co Monaghan’s agribusiness sector been, with initially small local companies mushrooming into global leaders and the county becoming synonymous with quality and productivity across a range of poultry produce, that it can sometimes seem invulnerable to economic tides and turns. The significant labour and peat sourcing problems confronting the mushroom sector, and the recent expansion curb imposed on poultry producers in the county due to unacceptably high ammonia emissions, illustrates that these bedrock components of the Co Monaghan economy have to deal with significant challenges and their health and welfare need careful tending from time to time.

Add in Brexit and climate change pressures to the mix and you have, as Senator Gallagher told the Seanad this week, the constituents of a “perfect storm” if some serious remedial attention is not given to the issues he very responsibly highlighted at national level this week. Hopefully appropriate action will be taken. Judge McLoughlin the administration of justice in co monaghan has suffered a severe blow with the sudden death of Judge Denis McLoughlin, who presided over the district courts of this county and our neighbouring Cavan. Judge McLoughlin succeeded Judge Seán McBride as the presiding Judge of the District in 2015.

While he did not loom as large in character as his predecessor, he quickly stamped his own personality on the courts over which he presided, handling the large case lists common in Cavan and Monaghan with a precise efficiency and an unwavering consistency in his knowledge and application of the law. The Irish District Court system is particularly demanding of its judges, legal practitioners and clerical staff, and of the Gardaí and State agencies who bring cases before it.

The growing diversity and complexity of modern criminal law, the rise in society’s recourse to the stringencies and mercies of the family law court and the rising volume of litigation that makes its way into the civil hearing list are mounting tides that have not been matched by an increase in the resources available to the system.

This brings particular pressures on all those who work in or engage with the district courts, most of all perhaps on the presiding judge who is expected to handle a list of daily cases that can run into the hundreds with patience, consistency and the application of both legal rigour and humane consideration. It is perhaps the summation of the many tributes paid to the late Judge Denis McLoughlin this week to say that he discharged this daily challenge dutifully, and that all those who came before him in his courts were treated with constancy, courtesy and a depth of consideration of their virtues and failings.

Judge Denis McLoughlin was a careful labourer in the garden of the rule of law. May he experience what a previous judge, King Solomon, spoke of: “the sleep of a labouring man is sweet.”

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