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No plough Government accused of 'smokescreen' around cancellation of ploughing championships

It is estimated that around €50m will be lost to the economy as a result of the cancellation

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Large crowds are pictured at the National Ploughing Championships in Carlow (Naill Carson/PA)

Large crowds are pictured at the National Ploughing Championships in Carlow (Naill Carson/PA)

Large crowds are pictured at the National Ploughing Championships in Carlow (Naill Carson/PA)

The Assistant Managing Director of the National Ploughing Association has accused the Government of creating a "smokescreen" around the cancelation of this year’s championships. 

Yesterday the organisers of the annual event cancelled the National Ploughing Championships for 2021 because of uncertainty over Covid-19 restrictions.

It is the second consecutive year that the event, which had 297,000 attendees in 2019 and was set to take place in Co Laois this September, has been cancelled.

Organisers said they felt that cancelling the 1,700-strong exhibitor event was the only option following months of monitoring the Covid-19 status and taking into account the Government's updated roadmap for the next few months.

It is estimated that around €50m will be lost to the economy as a result of the cancellation.

Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue said he was disappointed they have been called off but insisted that he had engaged closely with organisers.

However, the Assistant Managing Director of the NPA, Anna Marie McHugh, descried this as a "smokescreen".

Minister McConalogue told Friday night’s The Hard Shoulder on Newstalk that he had spoken to Ms McHugh on Thursday morning and told her they would know more in two to three weeks' time about whether the Championships could go ahead.

He added that given the scale of the event, a huge amount of preparation was required months in advance, which is why contact between the various Government departments began weeks ago.

But NPA managing director Anna May McHugh told Newstalk Breakfast with Susan Keogh today that the National Ploughing Championships didn't become one of the biggest events in Europe "by not being able to move timelines"

"I was disappointed because the Minister gave a very clear smokescreen as far as I could see that it would all be sorted in two or three weeks if the NPA had just waited," she said.

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"I think the Government missed a trick on this, I'm not saying they could have happened.

"We're still in a very volatile situation and the NPA never expected that we could get full clarity on where things are at or that we would have had a carte blanche to do what we wanted in September.

"But what we've been asking for since February is to just give us some information, what could it look like if we're at a certain stage.

Ms McHugh insisted that they were not asking the Minister to look into a crystal ball, but were seeking advice on what kind of plans the Association should be coming up with.

She added that she was not asked to contribute to a focus group set up by the Tourism Minister in March to assess a potential roadmap for the return of live events.

"What the Minister [for Agriculture] told me is that there would be more information in two to three weeks about how things would roll out in the summer but we still wouldn't be sure what would happen in September," she said.

"We knew that, but if we're only beginning to see information about ideas in three weeks' time, well it's only then we can start looking at our venue and our structure.

"There's been a constant call for months now from the events industry just to talk to us.

"The country is coming out of lockdown, it's brilliant and we're all delighted, but my reason for saying this is for the other gigs that are supposed to happen this summer, just talk to them."

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