John Comer, President of the The Irish Creamery Milk Supplier Association (ICMSA) on his farm in Ballyvary, Co. Mayo, Ireland back in 2014. (Photo: Keith Heneghan / Phocus)

Speaking on the widespread coverage given to allegations that ‘farming families’ were deliberately keeping elderly relatives in public hospital to avoid having to engage with the ‘Fair Deal’ scheme and make contributions towards the cost of nursing home care, the President of ICMSA John Comer, said the allegations were ‘serious’, adding that the fact they seemed to have originated with senior HSE staff, meant that ‘the matter would have to be pursued’.

Mr Comer said that while no one disputed the extent of pressures on the public hospital system, it was wholly unsatisfactory to have very senior personnel singling out a particular group and levelling this kind of accusation against them without producing any kind  of statistical or factual breakdown that would support such an argument.

Mr Comer said it now behoved the HSE personnel  cited in the report, to produce the hard evidence on which they had based what he called ‘this casual slur against farm families’.

“Unfortunately farmers are an easy target for this kind of stuff and we’re well used to people deflecting their own or their system’s shortcomings in our direction. But I personally feel a little aggrieved when a senior source is quoted in a connection like this on the basis of anecdote or heresay, without the slightest attempt made to produce any  statistical evidence to support, what I’m afraid we have to interpret as, a very casual slur against farm families.

“I have to say that I find it unsatisfactory that a senior public servant can be quoted being so disparaging about a group within society in this offhand way without being asked to produce some kind of factual basis for her opinion,”  said Mr Comer.