The Irish government has insisted that livestock marts must continue with online video sales only, despite technical problems over the weekend that led to delays at 16 sales and the cancellation of four others.

Marts were told to move all their sales online on 21 October after Ireland moved to Level 5 restrictive measures as a part of its strategy to control the spread of coronavirus.

The new rules allow sellers to drop off their cattle at the mart, with buyers allowed to inspect stock by appointment. However, the bidding process is online only.

See also: Welsh mart will shut unless farmers obey Covid-19 rules

The rules are similar to arrangements that were in place in April and May.

But the Irish Farmers Association (IFA) has said the government must urgently review the restrictions after problems experienced on Saturday morning (24 October) caused “huge issues”.

“The reality is that relying on the online-only system is too ambitious,” said IFA president Tim Cullinan.

“The system has been bedding down well as a complementary system to bidding at the ringside.

‘Hectic time’

“However, clear challenges have now emerged, related to broadband and the ability of systems to cope with the volume of cattle during what is a hectic time of the year.”

Mr Cullinan said some buyers were not comfortable with the online system, so farmers were also worried the market would not function properly without these bidders’ participation.

“Everyone is doing their best, but the protocols need to be reviewed to allow a limited number of buyers around the ring.

“The autumn trade is crucial and it would be hugely disruptive if trade could not continue or if the market was compromised.

“We need to allow some level of in-person trading once social distancing and other guidelines are fully and rigorously followed.”

But a statement from the Department of Agriculture has confirmed that there will be no change in the rules for now, arguing strict public health measures are needed to protect people’s health.

Two-hour delays

It said that one of the three main online systems used by the marts had a problem on Saturday, which was resolved after about two hours, allowing sales to resume afterwards.

The department estimates that 26 of 30 auctions that took place on Saturday completed their sales, while four marts were reported to have cancelled.

“Department officials have been in contact today with each of the system providers, and all have reaffirmed their commitment to taking all necessary steps to avoid any reoccurrence of such problems,” said the statement.

“The unprecedented numbers of people viewing and bidding on the mart online systems – and the speed at which farmers have adopted the new technology – has meant that some have had to build extra resilience into their systems.”