Let them eat cheese: anger as Ireland plans handouts of cheddar to the poor

Irish government's offer of chunks from EU cheese mountain prompts outrage from opposition politicians and public

cheddar cheese - irish government to hand out free cheddar
The Irish agriculture minister, Brendan Smith, said the free cheddar scheme was 'contributing towards the well-being of the most deprived citizens'. A caller to RTÉ radio asked, 'have they taken leave of their senses?' Photograph: Murdo Macleod

The country may be a few heartbeats away from intervention by the International Monetary Fund but today the Irish government had a novel message for the public: let them eat cheese.

Brendan Smith, the agriculture minister, announced a European Union-funded scheme today that will enable the country to tuck into the EU's cheese mountain. 53 tonnes of fresh cheddar will be distributed from 15 November with collection centres in towns and cities around the country.

The minister said the scheme was "an important means of contributing towards the well-being of the most deprived citizens in the community".

"I am very conscious that many people find themselves in difficult circumstances at present and I want to commend the work of the many charitable organisations who are working on the front line to bring what comfort and relief they can," said Smith.

The initiative was immediately attacked by the opposition Fine Gael party, who called it an insult to the country, which is suffering the worst financial crisis in its history.

Brian Lenihan, the finance minister, announced on Thursday that his budget next month would cut £5.2bn from public spending, twice the amount first suggested and coming on top of swingeing cuts already made in last year's budget.

Fine Gael's agriculture spokesman, Andrew Doyle, said: "People on the breadline would rather the government's attention was on solving the economic crisis they caused and providing jobs rather than on this ridiculous announcement.

"This shows just how out of touch Fianna Fáil and the Greens truly are. Maybe looking down from their ministerial Mercs, [taoiseach or prime minister] Brian Cowen, Brendan Smith et al think that all the Irish people want or need is cheese. The truth is sadly different.

"It goes to show that they think that providing free cheese will soft soap the electorate and make us all forget the mess Fianna Fáil made of the country and the hardship Brian Lenihan will inflict on everyone. It won't."

In the past butter has been given out to the needy, but this year it was felt cheese was easier to distribute. The cheese has been manufactured in Ireland and will be bought by the government from the Irish Dairy Board and made available through charities.

The initiative was welcomed by the Society of St Vincent de Paul, a charity that looks after the poor in Ireland. It said it has seen the numbers of people seeking assistance soar. "We have people on social welfare, single mothers, the elderly, lone parents. Half the calls we take are about food and energy," said a spokesman.

But the announcement tested the patience of the wider public, who have already been warned of deep cuts to pensions, pay and social welfare in the forthcoming budget.

One caller to RTÉ's Joe Duffy phone-in radio show said: "The fact that Marie Antoinette said 'let them eat cake' was the beginning of the revolution – is that what they want?"

Another caller said: "Have they taken leave of their senses? It's not cheese that people who have lost their jobs that people are worried about, it's about how they're going to tell their children or grandchildren that Santa has very little money.

"What are they going to tell their children and grandchildren: that Santa has cheese instead?"


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  • Contributor

    SE26lad

    5 November 2010 3:31PM

    The minister said the scheme was "an important means of contributing towards the well-being of the most deprived citizens in the community".

    How? Cheese, whilst tasty, is extremely fattening.

  • bob15

    5 November 2010 3:32PM

    The IMF will be able to deal with the problems that the government has created.

    The IMF should bring in a new land tax to stop the richest in Ireland avoiding paying tax as land tax has to be paid if you own the land.

    Those at the top aren't willing to take huge pay cuts and give far more over of what they earn to the pension funds they expect to give them a good retirement.

    It should also focus on the low tax rate for business which leaders claim is needed to protect jobs when they could raise it a few percent with little trouble as those companies need the skilled jobs in Ireland.

  • JCorry

    5 November 2010 3:36PM

    Another caller said: "Have they taken leave of their senses? It's not cheese that people who have lost their jobs that people are worried about, it's about how they're going to tell their children or grandchildren that Santa has very little money.

    "What are they going to tell their children and grandchildren: that Santa has cheese instead?"

    Bless the middle-classes - they genuinely don't understand that, for some people, lack of food is a more pressing problem than lack of toys. Indeed, they don't seem to realise that many people have never been able to afford Christmas presents.

  • Lenford

    5 November 2010 3:39PM

    This comment has been removed by a moderator. Replies may also be deleted.

  • readthepaper

    5 November 2010 3:41PM

    If there's a cheese mountain -- which apparently there is -- it seems that handing it out to those who need it is a sensible idea. If they were piling ever more cheese onto a surplus mountain people would be (rightly) pointing at the hungry people who could use some cheese.

    I think handing out the cheese shows good sense. Santa has very little money this year, and that's a shame. But leaving the cheese to rot is a bad idea, and who better to have it than the people who need it?

  • ataxia

    5 November 2010 3:49PM

    Seems like an appropriate moment to direct cheese lovers to cheeseorfont for a bit of time wasting.

    @readthepaper - Agree. Why should good food lie around going mouldy?

  • Halo572

    5 November 2010 3:56PM

    Sorry, I'd have to pass if it was offered to me. I am eating cheese, but not very often as I am concerned about the fat in it.

    My sides are nearly straight now (nearly no fat at all on my hips) and my stomach is flat and defined. 6 months gym work blown on gorging on free cheese wouldn't happen.

    There was that one Christmas I must have eaten a kilo of Stilton plus biscuits and I might treat myself to 250g depending on how I get on in the next 6 weeks. Free would be good, but it is unlikely.

  • slappamoddaily

    5 November 2010 3:59PM

    Look...this is a junk story. I m from Limerick, heart of the Golden vale, Irelands main dairy region, and this happens practicalily every year before xmas though mainly with butter....Yep its part of clearing the EU butter mountain and its bloody great...you get basically wrapped quality butter, limited to half a dozen packs each purchase, and every year , after we've all bought as much as we [and they] can carry the right wingers come out & blatter on with the same 'the people dont need butter they need jobs' nonsense...

    Its always been a cheap political shot from Irish so-called 'fiscal conservatives' to attack whatever govt is in power, when they should be embracing the whole clear the freezers out which saves a fortune in lecky bills and pointless storage costs, that or to dump it in these hard times...

    its was worse in the 80s when the same fekkin fiscal conservatives wouldnt allow these sales to the Irish who were producing the damn butter, as it pained them to have their precious 'free' market disrupted (yeah, giving away a surplus would cause the price to drop hence their precious free market baby might cry) so it was sold to russia at a knock down price...so they (the reds...the commies, yeah them!) got for-nothing-priced butter rather than just lowering the price of the product for the producing people...such is they way of these people...

    Hey, they burn up to 1/3rd of the complete USA harvest of wheat yearly while the world has over a billion starving, as this would also attack the grain price and their precious 'free market'...and they whing about 'subsidies'!!....'tis enough to make me choke on my (now heavily) buttered scones...Guardian...bit more research please before running nonsense stories like these with no background, its a yearly 'The Sun'-type outrage local story that should not get covered as its a load of moo-moo...and 'fiscal conservatives'...please just naff off and leave my cheap butter alone... Course if the gov dumped it they'd come over all green....

  • AnMailleach

    5 November 2010 4:01PM

    This comment has been removed by a moderator. Replies may also be deleted.

  • CathyBy

    5 November 2010 4:04PM

    Got to agree - the people on Joe Duffy saying that it was an insult and people weren't starving here were rather underminded by the brother who hands out food parcels every week. The people he gives food to are thrilled to have the cheese (as is he given he has a huge shortfall in funding to feed them).

    I think the anger is not because of the cheese per se but because this operation (which has been going on for years) was announced by a person paid thousands and driven around in an expensive car. It immediately brings to mind, "let them eat cake". It sounds like a sop thrown to the needy by the rich and comfortable, who are taking from the poor in order to give to the rich.

    As Robin Hood might have said, it's all about the optics.

  • rosyglow

    5 November 2010 4:04PM

    I'll take some any time you want to give it to me .. or would you rather it got chucked out? A lot of excess milk was thrown out in several European countries but here, in Brittany, a local farm co-op actually gave it away .. much better than throwing it away.

  • geracodub

    5 November 2010 4:14PM

    seriously, ... I mean seriously.. free cheese... oh for fuck's sake...

    The worst thing this is probably the best policy they have introduced in 36 months..

  • jekylnhyde

    5 November 2010 4:24PM

    Can you believe it? This article followed by a letter from one of those bloody townies who have no valid way of using up all the food they eat (presumably produced by another) so they have to go to the gym and waste it.

  • Puffer

    5 November 2010 4:27PM

    So it's Irish manufactured cheese which is part of the EU cheese mountain.

    Not one of the above posts adresses the question of who has paid for this Irish cheddar cheese mountain (not the Irish of course) and whether those who pay for it should have any say in the matter (clearly not)

    The answer is of course the German British Swedish and Dutch EU taxpayers are the ones paying for this chesse.

    I'm absoluety fed up of subsidising Irish and French farmers.

  • CathyBy

    5 November 2010 4:28PM

    Oh, and before the puns start in earnest, Fine Gael's Andrew Doyle has got there first.

    “Fianna Fáil and the Greens gouda be kidding. People on the breadline would rather the Government’s unfeta’d attention was on solving the economic crisis they caused and providing jobs rather than on this ridiculous announcement."

    (quote from Irish Times)

  • drabacus

    5 November 2010 4:33PM

    Would have thought the dairy companies would be pretty annoyed at this undercutting of their market. Cheese is hardly a luxury product the poor are going to stop buying when their budgets are pressed.

    Even at the height of the Celtic tiger I remember supermarkets in upmarket areas of Dublin with walls of different types of processed cheddar. If you were lucky you could find a tiny corner of foreign and better quality home stuff. I've seen bigger cheese sections in minor provincial towns in former Soviet bloc states.

    Don't know what it is about the Irish and mass produced foods. Even their best known products - Guinness or whiskey - are all the product of massive factory production.

    Quantity before quality seems to have been the lesson of the Celtic Tiger too though.

  • PastyDuchy

    5 November 2010 4:35PM

    It dismays me how many people miss the point. Food surplus to be distributed to those who need it and idiots complain. It is not a case of cheese OR jobs (cake or death?) many people are struggling to feed their families and these people will not be worrying about the fat content any more than whether they could afford gym membership (congrats Halo youve managed to turn an item on people who can barely afford to eat into a blog on how you've lost loads of weight).
    I do remember the free beef my mum excitedly collected years ago in a similar UK endeavour turned out to be Fray Bentos style stewed gristle but beggars cant be choosers and the butter was fine in fact a rare treat for us at the time.
    The perfect accompaniment to this cheese would of course be some of the wine lake if that still exists

  • fluter

    5 November 2010 4:37PM

    its was worse in the 80s when the same fekkin fiscal conservatives wouldnt allow these sales to the Irish

    Yep, I remember sailing into Cork Harbour and having a moored ship pointed out: full of stored butter. Even then food in Ireland was expensive so I'd imagine a bit of cheese now would be very welcome. And Puffer, yes, maybe the CAP can be stupid but better to eat this stuff than pay for storage and dumping.

    A non-story: I may have lots on my To Do list but that doesn't mean I can't tick off a few simple tasks occasionally even if bigger problems remain.

  • giveusaclue

    5 November 2010 4:38PM

    And how much has the EU paid the farmers to produce this cheese mountain? And any other food mountain for that matter?

    And why do we have food mountains in the first place.

  • seanschofield

    5 November 2010 4:44PM

    Wasted food is an outrage and something that should not be mocked, can laugh off being repossessed, made homeless, no job and the fuckin rest of it, but i draw the line at people finding hunger amuseing, its not.
    Any inititive to ease the misery of 1930's type deprivation should be welcomed.

  • AtaBrit

    5 November 2010 4:52PM

    Isn't this a 'free-market' has failed again story?
    Have the producers of this cheese gone bankrupt? If so, share it anyway. If not, then we are talking about over-pricing in the market. If it's the latter then give the cheese away but at the same time regulate the pricing of cheese in future!

    Handing out free cheese is hardly a slap in the face, as others have mentioned. It should be welcomed. How many more mountains do we have that are not being distributed to the poor? Share them all out! But to try to turn the situation to political advantage is undignified and callous.

    Whatever the reason, there is no doubt that a 'free-market' which produces food mountains is a failure. Once again we can congratulate those that waive more and more responsibility aside by selling the 'free-market'. It's a joke. Plain and simple.

    And the idea that we should be fed left-overs from the free-market, while attractive, is also insulting!

  • Leoben

    5 November 2010 4:56PM

    Re:
    I would suggest distributing it cut into the form of gold bullion just to wind up the people a little more.

    Bongoid - what an utterly brilliant comment. It sums up the insanity of some of these people perfectly.

    I'm still in stitches!

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