WEAK broadband infrastructural across Clare has been condemned by the county chairperson of the IFA, after online mart trading collapsed recently due to pressure on the system.
Level 5 restrictions have severely curtailed the operation of marts across the country with all transactions now taking place virtually. Tom Lane of Parteen said that the inadequate state of broadband infrastructure in the county had been exposed and that speeding up initiatives like the National Broadband Plan was now an urgent matter.
A technical glitch, outside of the control of Clare Marts, who use an external supplier for their streaming and online sales, meant that trading was interrupted for a time last Saturday week.
“There was a major problem nationwide,” Michael McNamara, the manger explained. “One of the software providers that offer livestreaming, their server crashed or was unable to handle the volume of business. Thankfully, that got resolved. It was out for two to two-and-a-half hours, but got up and running again after dinner. We were able to trade all day, very successfully on the [Bank Holiday] Monday in Kilfenora.”
Mr McNamara acknowledged broadband challenges in both Scariff and Kilfenora and the latter venue has been identified by government as one with limited connectivity. Highlighting the difficulty for marts since Level 5 restrictions came into force, Roscommon-Galway TD Denis Naughten released a list showing that 19 marts around the country, including that in Kilfenora, are in areas with poor broadband.
“The whole situation really highlights the lack of broadband around County Clare,” said Mr Lane. “The most important thing for farmers, at the moment, is to be able to sell their animals and it’s just not good enough that their broadband, in so many cases, is letting them down.”
The IFA chairperson said that the system that had operated in marts, prior to the Level 5 restrictions, should have been allowed to continue and that his organisation would continue to push for the regulations to be eased.
“Once marts were re-opened after the first lockdown, there was as real commitment to keeping them safe and to following the rules,” he said. “We will definitely continue to push for a limited re-opening and a return to having controlled numbers and some trading in the sales rings.”
Mr McNamara agreed that Clare Marts was confident the system operating previously had been a safe one. “We believe that what we were operating under Level 3 was safe and can’t see any reason why that couldn’t continue, insofar as that social distancing was being maintained and it gave an option of both ringside and online activity,” he said. “Huge representation have been made through farming organisations and the mart organisation, ICOS (Irish Co-Operative Organisation Society). The issue we were faced with was what we [now] have or not to be able to provide a service at all. It’s essential that a service be maintained especially at this time of year.”
Cathaoirleach of the Killaloe Municipal District, Councillor Pat Hayes, who is a farmer, added that there was a difficulty for many in using online technology and called for a return to limited on-site trading at marts. “Farmers are predominantly of an older generation,” he said. “They’re not as internet savy as a lot of people would like. A lot of people are depending on their sons and daughters and it is creating a difficulty. I can’t for the life of me see that the marts, which are an essential service for farmers, wouldn’t be allowed to continue to operate under the system that was there before Level 5 came in.”
Councillor Hayes also expressed that the price of stock had dropped off in recent weeks over a lack of competition among buyers. Mr McNamara said the prices had been exceptionally strong up to three to four weeks ago and were still ahead of last year. However, he did acknowledge the problems caused by low export activity.
In a statement on the marts, the Department of Agriculture said, “In the interest of protecting those in the agri-sector and wider rural communities from the spread of Covid-19, and in line with public health guidelines, livestock mart sales will continue using online only platforms.”