Simon Coveney defends handling of horsemeat scandal

Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries declares 2013 as ‘an extraordinary year in many ways’

Politicians, like journalists, veer towards hyperbole but when Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries Simon Coveney declares 2013 as “an extraordinary year in many ways”, he is not too far off the mark.

At the turn of the year, he and his colleagues were faced with the shocking news of the death of Shane McEntee, the Meath East TD, a junior minister in the department.

“While people were trying to deal with that real tragedy in the department we got hit with the horse meat crisis which, literally, came out of nowhere and people needed to respond to that in a very professional way which they did,” Mr Coveney said.

Soon after that subsided, another crisis occurred, this time a fodder shortage after a prolonged and bitter winter. Throw in the crucial negotiations leading to a new Common Agriculture Policy and a Common Fisheries Policy and it is a year that is out of the ordinary.


Mr Coveney said that the response of his department and other State agencies to the horse meat crisis was quick and decisive and had produced a hard-hitting and authoritative report.

But then a British House of Commons committee published a report that implied the Irish authorities had not been forthcoming with information and had not been as prompt as they should have been. For Mr Coveney, the conclusions of the report are difficult to accept. “We have tried to be an open book on this. I can only draw the conclusion that this has been a big political scandal in the UK.

"Of course I take on board any constructive criticism but I would have to say from my experience of dealing three or four times a week with my UK counterpart [the agriculture secretary] and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland dealing with them in a close way, I find it difficult to accept that we were not forthcoming or helpful in sharing information.

"This suggestion that our priority was to help companies rather than consumers is not accurate in the Irish case. Anybody who reads our report will know that . . . it does not pull its punches."

Legal cases
He also rejected the view that Ireland had gone easy on producers as it had secured no convictions. "That's not true. We have had the Garda Síochána involved and we are continuing to establish if we can put legal cases together."

On the issue of the fodder crisis, he said the €2 million spent on buying in food for animals was the “best €2 million we ever sanctioned”.

He and the department was also criticised for acting only when it was too late.

"This accusation was made by opponents that we only realised it was a crisis at the end of April. But we had been working with Teagasc and farming organisations in managing a fodder crisis right through the winter months. We knew the quality of silage from last summer was very poor."