Agriculture Minister Tom Hayes says experience ‘on the ground’ stands to him
The new minister, who took office after the horse-meat scandal broke, has food safety and forestry high on his to-do list
“I think the Government understands it . . . they are reasonable people and I would hope that the policy [to exclude capital assets] will prevail,” he says.
When the Dáil resumes he says he will be urging Minister for Enterprise Richard Bruton to push for the early introduction of a code of practice for the grocery sector. The code, which would protect suppliers from sharp practices by retailers, has been awaited for some time and the Government failed to introduce it before the Dáil broke up for the summer holidays.
“I understand that some time early in the new Dáil session, legislation will be brought forward to deal with this. I would be anxious, and I would be talking to Richard Bruton to ensure that it goes through.”
Hayes is responsible for horticulture and fruit and vegetable growers have been warning that the relentless drive by supermarkets for cheap food is forcing many growers out of the industry.
He says he understands their concerns. “It’s a competitive business and a tough business. Obviously some of the growers are under a lot of pressure but when the Minister for Enterprise and Trade acts on what’s promised, I think it will help those people. I intend to work with them to deal with the problems they have.”
Ash dieback disease
Forestry is also one of his areas of responsibility and the outbreak of ash dieback disease is a key concern. He is waiting for the outcome of a summer survey of ash plantations and hedgerows that is now under way. Most of those results are due in about five weeks. “Obviously one has got to be concerned while that is going on,” he says. “It’s a worrying time for me because if there’s a spread of this it’s a whole new ball game for the department. It would be devastating for ash trees.”
There have been 85 confirmed findings of the fungal disease since it was first confirmed in imported trees in a Co Leitrim plantation last October. While the Forest Service received criticism for not acting quicker to stop the importation of ash plants, he says “from what I’ve seen, a lot has been done and I can’t see what else could have been done”.
Food safety is also in his bailiwick, but luckily for him, he was not in situ when the horse meat scandal emerged in January. He recently attended a food safety conference in Rome and says he was congratulated for the way the Irish authorities had handled the horse meat crisis. “We were the first to discover what was a European- wide problem. They were saying, only for us the scandal would have continued all over Europe.”
During the crisis, there was criticism for the major fall in the number of meat plant inspections by his department.