I propose to take Questions Nos. 815 and 824 together.
On 19th October, the Taoiseach announced that the whole country would move to Level 5 of the Framework for Living with COVID-19 for a period of 6 weeks, starting midnight on Wednesday, the 21st. This decision was made on foot of strong evidence presented to the Government of a potentially grave situation arising in the weeks ahead. For marts, this means a return to similar conditions under which they operated during the first phase of the pandemic.
The Taoiseach has called on us all to work together to suppress the virus, and to reopen as much of our society and economy as possible when it is safe to do so. The core responsibility of this Government is to protect lives and to protect public health, while also protecting livelihoods and supporting the wider economy and society.
Protecting the agri-food sector and people in rural communities is at the centre of my Department’s direction, on 20th October, that buyers could not physically congregate in sales rings and that all marts may conduct sales by brokering transactions or by using online platforms only.
Marts have been using online mart sales systems since April. Although marts are operating sales online, buyers may view livestock for sale at the mart premises - individual appointment times are allocated to individual buyers to view or collect livestock.
From a position where few marts had online systems in place in April, there has been a rapid take up of the new systems by marts over recent months. Currently, the vast majority of marts have online systems in place and are operating through online platforms. Some remaining marts are in the process of installing online systems. Thousands of cattle and sheep have been bought and sold successfully online. As with any new technology, there have been some glitches and these have been dealt with as they arise.
This is undoubtedly a challenging time. My Department is closely monitoring the situation, and we are seeing some positive aspects of online sales at marts, despite some reports that marts and potential buyers have not been able to access the online platforms due to connectivity issues.