The decision by the Minster for Agriculture not to introduce a payment to horse owners for the disposal of surplus animals not permitted into the food chain has been strongly criticised by Independent MEP Marian Harkin.
Speaking as she officially opened the Ballinasloe Horse Fair today Sunday, September 29th she said that the decision not to introduce an incentive scheme for the disposal of surplus horses raised serious questions about the Department of Agriculture’s commitment to animal welfare and to Ireland’s image abroad which had been severely damaged internationally by stories based on the ill treatment of horses last winter.
She said: “The brand image of Ireland Inc was severely damaged last year by stories which went around the world concerning the treatment of surplus and starving horses. This should have served as a warning to the government that the surplus horse problem needed to be effectively tackled.
“However the working group set up by the Department of Agriculture, according to reports, has washed its hands of the problem and instead of implementing a payment to assist in the disposal of surplus animals they have apparently decided to do nothing.
“This is sheer dereliction of responsibility by the Minister for Agriculture Mr. Coveney who makes many speeches and allocates €millions to propagate a good image for Ireland’s agricultural output.
“If there is no an immediate and effective move by the Department of Agriculture to facilitate the disposal of surplus horses it could again create a situation which will be hugely damaging to our country’s image and to those horsemen and women all over Ireland who have nothing but the best interests of their animals at heart.
“On a brighter note what is most heartening in Ireland today is how the voluntary sector fills so many of the gaps left by the failure, or incapacity, of government to serve the needs of citizens. The voluntary effort of volunteers in Ballinalsoe is exemplified in their involvement in the organising and administration of Ireland’s greatest horse fair.
“This fair in the early 1800s was described by no less an oracle than the ‘great thunderer’ the London Times as the largest in Europe and the ‘greatest in the British Empire’. Whatever about no longer being a standout in the Empire, Ballinasloe is still a force to be reckoned with. Whether it is in organising this great fair and many other voluntary initiatives or highlighting wrong headed actions by the HSE the people of Ballinasloe are prepared to put in the necessary major voluntary effort.
“Volunteering whether it is carers, meals on wheels, the IFA, the Tidy Towns or taking to the streets to make a point, volunteers are at the core of every community. It is volunteers such as you who make this great fair possible, who help to make life bearable in these very difficult times in communities across the country.
“It would be no harm if our national politicians recognised the enormous economic value represented by volunteering and I say with no exaggeration that this country would grind to a halt both economically and socially if volunteers were not there to plug so many gaps”, Marian Harkin added.