Irish calves filmed in a truck on a ferry to France. Photo: RTE Investigates

RTÉ in the dock again

While the extraordinary revelations regarding the secret payments by RTÉ to presenter Ryan Tubridy continued this week, the broadcaster also produced another extraordinary piece of public service journalism.

The best journalism highlights injustices, cruelty and illegal behaviour which should then result in lasting change.

The latest RTÉ Investigates programme, broadcast this Monday was the result of over five months of in-depth investigation by RTÉ presenter and journalist Fran McNulty.

Ireland’s 17,500 dairy farmers produce dairy produce which is exported to 191 countries with an €6.2 billion contribution to the economy. The industry is very important in Ireland and Cork is no different.

In fact, RTÉ say that Cork is home to a quarter of the national herd and that one and a half million dairy calves are born in Ireland every year, so that cows continue to produce milk.

The programme found that many of the males aren’t suitable to be reared for beef, so they are virtually valueless. They end up being slaughtered on farms, in meat factories or being exported as veal to mainland Europe.

At peak points in the calving season, which can be a 6-8 week period in spring and in autumn, the investigation found that at some mart sales, they couldn’t even be given away for free such is the oversupply of calves. This means bull calves can be regarded as essentially worthless and they can be treated terribly.

Over a number of weeks RTÉ Investigates filmed at several Irish marts including Bandon, Kanturk and Corrin in Cork, and saw some handlers treat young calves with respect and care. But others showed a terrible disregard for animal welfare.

Undercover filming captured what are likely to be serious breaches of animal welfare. The documentary showed the slapping, striking and kicking of animals, which are all prohibited by law.

Footage showed the use of sticks on young calves while under EU regulations, sticks are not permitted for use on young calves and a calf’s ears or tail, which is sensitive and can break.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has promised to launch an investigation.

Charlie McConalogue, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine said: “I strongly condemn the shocking practices we saw on RTÉ Investigates. The footage shown by RTÉ represents the actions of a few. What we saw was utterly unacceptable, and in some instances, was unlawful. “My Department has requested RTÉ provide it with all of the footage available, and any other information it has, so that it can investigate the matter fully and take appropriate action,” he said.

RTÉ have done their part, now will investigations result in real change?