The Irish Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has stated that there is “no legal basis” to reconsider compensation for farmers whose animals were culled during the 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak in Co. Louth. Senator Erin McGreehan, who hails from the Cooley Peninsula where the outbreak occurred, raised the issue in the Seanad. McGreehan drew attention to what she described as “two-tier” compensation, with some farmers taking legal action against the department and some not. She argued that negotiations on compensation would be reopened when the legal action was complete.
McGreehan commented that, “There was a compensation package, but from very early on, as the department will be very much aware, the farmers affected were not satisfied with the valuations.” She added that, “There were meetings, protests and rows over the different approaches that should be taken and lots of division among friends, neighbours and families as to what was the best course of action for the devastated community.”
Some farmers decided to initiate legal action in order to secure higher compensation, with this legal action only being fully resolved in the last year. McGreehan argued that, “There was a clear understanding at the time that, once legal action was concluded, other farmers would be dealt with by the department. The court action has continued for decades. After 21 years, the department has settled with a group of farmers who took to the courts to get what they were entitled to. Financial packages have rightly been paid out to those farmers.”
However, McGreehan drew attention to the fact that this has given rise to two levels of compensation. She argued that, “We have the most unsatisfactory situation whereby there are two tiers of compensation package. One for farmers who took legal action, and one for the others who believed the department at the time that it would be willing to reopen negotiations with representatives after the legal action.” She added that, “The crux of this matter is that each farming family made the same sacrifice, with the same losses and the same trauma, and they all co-operated with the cull, but some are now being treated differently.”
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture Martin Heydon responded to McGreehan’s remarks, as Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue was on a trade mission to China. Heydon stated that the resolution to legal cases last year was without an admission of liability from the Department of Agriculture, on the basis that all matters relating to compensation of farmers affected by the foot-and-mouth outbreak on the Cooley Peninsula were thereafter resolved.
He added that, if it was understood that the conclusion of legal action last year would be followed by further payments to all farmers affected (not just the ones that took legal action), then the department would not have settled the cases on such terms. Heydon argued that, “The compensation made to farmers in 2001 was clearly understood by the recipients to be a full and final settlement of any losses which they had suffered as a consequence of the depopulation. This is a matter which the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine regards as being concluded, and it can see no legal basis to reopen the issue.”
In response, McGreehan argued that, “I have to really stress that not one penny was spared by the government at the time. Any money which was needed for overtime, accommodation or checkpoint security was given, and the only ones who were left wanting were the people who lost their livelihoods. Everything else was paid for. An Garda Síochána and the army were all paid for. However, the generations of livestock which were brought up over hundreds of years were lost. The farmers were the only ones who were not happy with this situation.”
McGreehan added that, “There are farmers who have received less than others. Desperate hurt happened 22 years ago, and that hurt is continuing, and when farmers are receiving more than others, that is wrong and an injustice which the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine should not stand over.”