Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Irish Farmers and Pharmacists Addicted to Public Welfare

Beneficiaries of public handouts over a long period do not give up their privileges when new circumstances warrant it. They become addicted to them and Irish farmers and pharmacists are fighting for a retention of public welfare.

Irish farmers have been the biggest per capita beneficiaries of the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) for decades. It's a public welfare system and there is no maximum limit on the direct payment system that is payable for even watching the grass grow.

Multimillionaire beef processor Larry Goodman gets more than €500,000 annually in payments to support his 1,600 estate. Besides the CAP, some farmers who have been fortunate in having land acquired for road building or with potential for development, have also been huge beneficiaries of the system that makes land scare in a country that is 4% urbanised.

Meanwhile, most pharmacists also have been enjoying a public bonanza and those who have cashed in recent years have hit the jackpot. Public payments have risen from €332 million in 1997 to €1.5 billion in 2006. Published Health Service Executive (HSE) figures show that 26 pharmacies received payments of over €1m in 2006. The biggest recipient, Abbey Healthcare in Blackrock, Co Dublin, received over €4m, which was almost twice as much as the next biggest.

-Ireland's 40-year bonanza of foreign aid from the European Union will amount to €41 billion by the time we become a net contributor in 2013

As for farmers, 12 Asian emerging economies accounting for half the world's population, provide a huge potential for food producers and both Australia and New Zealand are gearing up to meet the huge demand for meat, grain and dairy products.

It's news to the Irish Farmers' Association who are stuck in the past trying to keep Brazilian beef out of the EU market and also maintain their existing protections against non-EU producers.

Speaking at an IFA protest outside the EU Commission offices in Dublin last week, IFA President Padraig Walshe said the hit on Ireland from any World Trade Organization (WTO) deal negotiated by EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson would be at least €2billion, with the loss of our suckler cow herd and third country prices and living standards for the few who might survive.

Walshe said farmers had gathered to keep up the pressure against Mandelson and remind him that his concessions to the Brazilians and other South Americans on beef would wipe out the suckler cow herd across Europe and in Ireland.

“The Irish beef and livestock sector has faced many challenges over the years, but it was never in such a dangerous situation as it is facing over the next 3 months. The WTO negotiations are in a perilous phase and if Mandelson is not stopped in his tracks, all the indications are that he will concede even more to try and pull together a deal,” he said.

Padraig Walshe said “Mandelson is working behind closed doors in Geneva in a reckless destruction of the CAP. He is prepared to sell out the beef industry in Ireland, to get a deal at any cost. He is engaged in a race to the bottom, to the lowest standards of food safety, animal welfare and the environment. The only winners in Mandelson’s agenda are the multinationals, commodity traders and corporate ranchers.”

IFA’s assessment is that the situation is now so critical that Ireland must declare a vital national interest to stop the Mandelson sellout. The only option open to the Government is to use the Veto. Walshe said “the bottom line is that Irish farmers could be facing a halving of cattle prices to €1.60/kg (that is below 60 pence/lb.) in the next few years if Mandelson is not stopped.”

In a country that depends on exports more than any other with foreign-owned companies being responsible for 90% of exports, the Minister for Agriculture has called for a complete ban on Brazilian imports into the EU.

-Foreign-owned firms were responsible for 90.2% of Irish exports in 2006 - including both merchandise goods and internationally traded services

Pandering to the farm lobby, Irish Minister of State for Trade and Commerce, John McGuinness TD recently met with the EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson in Brussels, to discuss recent developments in the current round of WTO (World Trade Organization) talks on the Doha agenda. The Minister said that he "outlined clearly Irish concerns on the direction the talks are taking that affect Irish Business and Agriculture."

The Minister "emphasised to Commissioner Mandelson the necessity that negotiations deliver real and clearly positive outcomes for Ireland."

- UN's World Food Programme considers rationing food aid: Irish Minister "robustly" defends agriculture protections apparently oblivious to the rapid changes in world markets

Pharmacists and Taxpayer funded Drugs

The Irish Independent reports that the cost of drugs to the health service reached almost €1.75bn last year, of which a quarter -- €370m -- went to the country's pharmacists, preliminary, unpublished figures show.

The battle between the Health Service Executive and the pharmacists over plans to reduce this bill reach a decisive stage this week, with an emergency meeting of the Irish Pharmacy Union on Wednesday to discuss the latest moves.

IPU president Michael Guckian says there is no prospect of finding an agreed solution to the dispute on the HSE's plan to cut margins on the cost of drugs by more than half, from almost 18pc to 8pc.

He has called on chemists not to carry out a threat to refuse prescription drugs to medical card patients while the IPU considers its next moves. Minister for Health Mary Harney is has assured such patients they will still get their prescription medicines if their pharmacist withdraws from the medical card scheme.

Brendan Keenan writes that the figures for last year show that drugs cost 45% more by the time they reached the patient than when they left the drug companies' factories. The latest row began after the HSE got agreement from the manufacturers to cut the cost of medicines by €260m over the next four years, and moved to get €100m in savings from wholesalers and pharmacists.

The figures show that wholesalers last year continued the practice of transferring half of their 17.7% mark-up to the pharmacists in the form of €100m in discounts.

Of the big wholesalers, Uniphar is owned by 400 pharmacists, Cahill May Roberts owns 72 retail chemists and United Drug has invested €300m in community pharmacies. UK chain Boot's has a target of 100 stores in Ireland.

Brendan Keenan says that as well as the €100m discount, chemists received €238m in fees and charged a €131m markup of their own last year. Published HSE figures show that 26 pharmacies received payments of over €1m in 2006. The biggest recipient, Abbey Healthcare in Blackrock, Co Dublin, received over €4m, which was almost twice as much as the next biggest.

It is estimated that the average pharmacy has a total turnover of €1.5m. The IPU argues that such averages hide the plight of the smaller pharmacies, especially those in rural areas, which will be hit disproportionately hard by the planned savings and some may go out of business.

-Pharmacy survey suggests over 300 Irish pharmacies "could" close as a result of threatened HSE cuts in payment; State payments have jumped from €332 million in 1997 to €1.5 billion in 2006

The IFA never complains about the land rezoning bonanza and the pharmacists pleading the Béal Bocht (poor mouth) belies the reality of the good times that both they and the farmers have enjoyed on public welfare.

There is a common mentaility in Ireland that public funds are for milking and there's no shortage of vested interests looking for part of the action.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern isn't the only socialist left in Ireland!