CLARE Marts have confirmed that its facilities will continue operations under Level 3 pandemic restrictions.
The Department of Agriculture had indicated that marts are designated as an essential service, but suggested some may have some of their operating procedures adjusted to take account of the new national restrictions.
Martin McNamara, general manager of Clare Marts noted that since re-opening of marts in early June, huge efforts had been made to adhere to national public health guidelines and to facilitate on-line sales to reduce the number of people attending in person. He also expressed the hope that the move to Level 3 would make it easier to enforce the regulations.
“The move to Level 3 shouldn’t make any great difference,” he said. “The rules are already being strictly enforced with social distancing, masks, sanitisers and so on. The bottom line is, though, that people won’t be allowed in if they have no business at the mart, because numbers are restricted until the pandemic abates. People have a personal responsibility.”
Mr McNamara said that the provision of online sales, which had happened in response to the lockdown earlier this year, had proven very popular and that, in the event of Level 5 restrictions, they might be the only option for farmers.
“Online sales have really taken off, many find it very attractive as an option,” he said. “Some buyers are going exclusively for the online option now. It has involved a lot of work for all of us at the mart, but we’ve really gotten to grips with it at this stage. There is added pressure too in terms of administration and enforcement of the rules, things like taking names and ensuring we have enough staff in each sales ring has added huge costs for the mart. Like all businesses, we have to count the extra cost.”
Clare Chairperson of the ICMSA, Martin McMahon welcomed the continued opening of the marts, saying it was vital that agriculture retains its status as an essential sector. He added that while the online sales option was a very welcome development, there was concern about the loss of the social element of going to the mart.
“I use the online option regularly and it’s mighty,” he said. “You would worry, though, that a point of contact has been lost for a lot of people. The rural community has also lost out in terms of weddings, masses and other chances to meet and we’re in very strange times right now, but we hope that we will all come out the other side of the pandemic.”
Mr Mahon also said that huge credit was due to farmers for keeping vital food supplies available. “Only for the fact that farmers get up early and work late, it wouldn’t be guaranteed that there’d be food in the shops,” he said. “Local produce is coming to the fore now because we can’t always guarantee it can come from overseas, especially with Brexit and the challenges that could create.”