I propose to take Questions Nos. 29 and 36 together.
I wish Deputy Cairns a happy birthday. I hope she finds a way to celebrate it in later years other than the way we are celebrating it tonight. I hope the day ahead finishes better than the way it is starting, that is, here in the Chamber. I thank the staff for being here with us. I take the Deputy's point on the late hour at which we are here.
As Deputy Cairns knows, the Department has adapted the conditions under which marts have had to operate since April to reflect various measures introduced by the Government to stop the spread of Covid-19 and to allow marts to remain operational throughout the Covid crisis. From April to 8 June, marts operated without public attendance at sales rings in that they were able to conduct transactions online or facilitate broking. Over the course of the summer, we have seen the introduction of online sales and they have started to work better and become a very positive aspect of operations. On 19 October, the Taoiseach announced the country was to move to level 5 and that marts would be operated online only, albeit with buyers being able to view cattle and other livestock in advance of sales, by appointment.
By and large, given the way marts have operated, the volume going through them and the prices received by farmers, there have been many positive outcomes. It has been a challenging experience for both marts and farmers. While many have got used to operating online over the summer, many have not. There is no doubt that a blended approach to sales is the way forward and the way to which the system will revert. We would all like to see this occur in due course. We are, however, in level 5, and the priority is public health. Marts now have the opportunity to operate online whereas in the earlier part of the pandemic restrictions period, that opportunity was not available.
Let me give some feedback on how the system has been operating. We went to level 5 on 21 October. From 19 October to 31 October, the cattle throughput in marts amounted to 88,000. This compared to 93,000 in the corresponding period in 2019. It amounts to 94% of the volume in the corresponding period in 2019. The number of marts operating during the period of level 5 restrictions is the same as that operating at the same time last year. According to the mart reports from the Irish Independent farming section today and the Irish Farmers Journal, and the feedback from mart managers, prices are holding up. They are up in certain categories. While the blended option will, without a doubt, be the way of the future and while it is the optimal approach, considering that we are subject to level 5 restrictions, we should note that if the online platforms were down and only a small number of people — 20, for example — were allowed around the ring, it would have a very significant impact on competition in the affected marts. This is because the experience has been that while online operations have been challenging for some, they have meant that many have been able to get involved in auctions. That is why we are seeing prices hold up and, indeed, increase in some ways.
I acknowledge that the circumstances are really challenging and I understand the difficulties farmers have. I understand the challenges that mart managers have faced in adapting but, apart from Saturday week last, when 16 marts were affected when the online platform went down for over two hours, albeit with only four sales cancelled, the system has been continuing to improve. We are now seeing an increase in volumes and confidence.