Political pressure mounts to resolve Department of Agriculture dispute

POLITICAL pressure is mounting to have the 10-week-old dispute at local offices of the Department of Agriculture and Food resolved.

Civil and Public Service Union members have been picketing offices in Galway, Mayo, Kerry, Limerick and at Clonakilty, Co Cork, in the row over opportunities for promotion. The dispute has led to 263 staff being removed from the department’s payroll and farming activities being disrupted. Both parties have met and discussed a number of issues, but no formula for resolving the dispute has emerged.

Fourteen CPSU members from the Clonakilty office have also issued legal proceedings against the Minister for Agriculture and Food seeking a judicial review of the removal of the staff. The case was heard in the High Court on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. Judgment has been reserved.

A number of court applications were also made by farmers seeking an injunction compelling the minister to return cattle identity cards or issue movement permits.

However, the farmers’ injunctions were rejected yesterday. Labour spokesperson Dr Mary Upton claimed in the Dáil that Farm Minister Joe Walsh had been deafening in his silence about the dispute.

She urged him to take an initiative to secure a settlement in view of the severe difficulties for farmers and the hardship for staff.

Food Minister Noel Treacy, expressing regret for the inconvenience caused, said there were mechanisms within the Partnership Framework to resolve such disputes.

He urged all of the staff engaged in the dispute to return to work and follow appropriate procedures.

Mr Treacy said the department had endeavoured to limit the impact of the dispute on farmers in the five counties involved.

The union has also set up a committee to review applications to temporarily ease restrictions relating to herds affected by tuberculosis or brucellosis on a case-by-case basis.

Fine Gael spokesman Billy Timmins was suspended from the Dáil earlier this week when he attempted to ask Taoiseach Bertie Ahern what plans, if any, he has to resolve the dispute.

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