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Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Bill 2020: Second Stage- Friday 27th March 2020

'I support the Minister in his work with the Bill. Ultimately, it is about protecting tenants, landlords, medical staff and healthcare workers. It is about those people being redeployed in front-line action against Covid-19.

No section of society escapes this crisis and agriculture is no exception. Many employed and self-employed people in agriculture will be impacted. The agricultural industry is often faced with crises and, though it is not directly impacted by infection to animals, it will feel the knock-on effects. People in agriculture are overwhelmed by the volume of information they are taking on board at the moment. There is a great deal to digest.

It should be stated to avoid any doubt that food and food supply chains will not be impacted by Covid-19. Farmers will continue to produce food to the highest standards to feed the nation through the crisis. However, those in agriculture are potentially citizens and employees who could and may succumb to the coronavirus. They could struggle to manage small and medium-sized businesses through illnesses and in the absence of support mechanisms or human resources to keep the wheels turning on a daily basis.

Credit must be given to farming organisations that have moved quickly to assist farmers and to engage.

Organisations such as the Irish Farmers Association, IFA, with more than 940 branches across the State, have produced guidelines and advice for dealing with Covid-19 on the farm. It has produced Have You a Plan B?, which is a step-by-step document to assist with planning in the event of contraction of the virus, if that should happen.

Beef markets are under pressure. International buyers are nervous like never before. Carcass balancing demands will present huge challenges, which are compounded by the closure of hotels, restaurants, catering outlets and the cancellation of functions, dinners, weddings and celebrations, as well as the depleted market for the prime cuts of beef.

Multinational fast food chains have closed their doors and even though we all hope this is a temporary disruption, we should be alarmed that this would create upset in the market, albeit hopefully very brief.

Livestock marts have closed. This will present huge challenges for many because the mechanism to deliver cash in a timely manner has been lost, where the ability to sell livestock at whatever stage of growth can stave off the threat of mounting bills and debts incurred in the normal process of running the business.

The social fabric of farming in rural areas is often around livestock marts. The absence of the marts presents another problem, with the ever-present issue of social isolation. Some less social-media savvy individuals depend on the marts for social interaction with friends and neighbours.

There is also the issue, which I believe has not been truly recognised, whereby as currency fluctuates with the impact of Covid-19, on an island that currently imports some 80% of feedstock and raw material from international markets, we could face increases in the prices of feed and fertilizer, putting even more pressure on profits and margins in these very much unforeseen circumstances.

I put it to the Minister that the past few weeks have highlighted even more the necessity to work together North and South, east and west.

The last few days have demonstrated that even though we have differing approaches, we are all working to the same objectives.

Even though timing and technicalities have not always been the same, the objectives have always been to protect life and to manage the people and the economy through a common foe. As the pendulum swings back and forwards with regard to who is performing best, North or South, this is only a distraction. What matters is who will perform best to save lives and protect people. There are no winners or losers.

This is a unique moment in history, an aspect of which we in Northern Ireland are overlooking. It is the first time since the Great War more than 100 years ago that the people on the island of Ireland, North and South, have a shared ambition. Whether nationalist or unionist, republican or loyalist, people have united to fight a common enemy. The last time this happened was the First Word War, with nationalist and unionist soldiers fighting shoulder to shoulder. Then the 1918 to 1920 flu pandemic killed 50 million to 100 million people globally. It was not discerning on creed or colour.

These are truly unique times and when we emerge from this crisis, as we will, we must capitalise on our ability to work together for the common good, to park differences and to strive to build a better economy together for all. This pandemic is undoubtedly uniting people North and South, east and west. I ask the Tánaiste to ensure that this momentum is maintained.'

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