Return of the full Irish as €180m deal agreed

THE traditional full Irish breakfast with rashers, sausages and black and white pudding is back to tickle the taste buds of consumers countrywide.

It followed an €180 million agreement brokered early yesterday between the Government and the pig meat processing industry, which was shut down following the dioxin scare.

Smaller businesses had products ready for the retail trade within hours of the European Food Safety Authority giving Irish pig meat a clean bill of health.

The big processors resumed production yesterday amid growing confidence that the 1.5 million hams required for the customary Christmas dinner in two weeks will be ready.

Workers who had been laid off are also returning to duty as the Government embarks on an information blitz at home and across the world to convince markets that Irish pork and beef are safe to eat.

The Government agreed, after marathon talks over three days, to set up a contingency fund of €180m for processors to cover costs arising from the recall of pig meat following last weekend’s crisis.

Nine farmers whose pigs ate contaminated feed will also be compensated for the slaughter of their animals. The estimated cost of the slaughter is put at €8m.

The European Commission also announced a private pig meat storage aid scheme worth €15m which may be needed if markets have been damaged.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen, who took part in the negotiations, said the agreement will be a great relief to hundreds of pig farmers and thousands of workers in the processing sector.

The deal was also welcomed by Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith, who defended the decision taken last Saturday to recall all Irish pork products.

“Our objectives have been to protect public health, restore consumer confidence and get the sector back to full capacity,” he said.

Mr Smith said the decision taken was the correct one and was the only responsible course of action open to the Government.

“We have been commended both at home and abroad for the promptness and decisiveness of our action,” he said.

Cormac Healy, director, Irish Association of Pig Processors, said the agreement is essential for the pig meat industry’s immediate survival and ongoing viability in the face of the losses arising from the product recall.

“This has been the single biggest crisis ever faced by the Irish pig meat sector. Companies look forward to a resumption of slaughtering and processing immediately,” he said.

Irish Farmers Association president Padraig Walshe said while the industry had incurred heavy losses due to the disruption, it was resilient and would fight back to reclaim its rightful place in the Irish market.

He thanked the public for their understanding.

SIPTU, which had warned that 6,000 jobs in pig processing were at risk as a result of the crisis, also welcome the resolution of the issues but said any compensation package must include employees.

A planned protest by workers outside Leinster House yesterday was called off to facilitate the speediest possible resumption of production in the plants.

However, SIPTU’s national industrial secretary Gerry McCormack said the reality was that many of its members will have lost a week’s earnings in the run-up to Christmas.

“It would make a big difference to them at this time of year to receive compensation for the days lost and we are raising this as a matter of urgency with the employers,” he said.

Mr McCormack commended Taoiseach Brian Cowen for his role in “picking up the pieces and helping resolve the problem”.

He added: “It is unfortunate that we cannot say the same for his cabinet colleagues, the ministers for agriculture and health, who have, hopefully, learnt how not to handle a crisis.”

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