In July 2004,I was on holidays in Austria,my favourite European destination;for it’s fabulous forests,beautiful mountains, numerous and pristine lakes where,despite the presence of agricultural activity around each one,the water is so clean one could drink it,and everyone swims in them.
All the lakes are favourite swimming places for the citizens come summertime,and all local farmers,with land on the lake shore water profit handsomely by providing basic amenities /changing rooms etc and charging a small fee for access.
Consequently the lakes adequately substitute for the absence of ocean beaches in this landlocked country,and the population flock to them to swim and enjoy water sports .More importantly the whole country is criss-crossed with traditional walking and cycling tracks,many of which pass through or in close proximity to farms.-at no charge to the tourists or local population.!
Unlike our long suffering Island,the farming community have a full appreciation that the most important industry in this beautiful country-besides agriculture –is Tourism.They are in harmony and empathy with the desire of visitors to have unhindered access to the hills,forests fields ,lakes and mountains .All of the Lakes are also well stocked with fish and it is an anglers paradise.I visit it every year on a self catering holiday,and the cost of foodstuffs,cheeses wines(superb) in the local discounters is incredibly low.
I was bemused to note that the Consumers Association of Ireland were issuing sound bites in a press release about this very fact,having done their own comparison between the same products sold in the same supermarket chain,(Aldi &Lidl) in France and Ireland
Renewed controversy and press articles on supermarket price comparisons which compare German discounters Aldi &Lidl to our home grown options,is intriguing and there are questions to be asked and answered.
I have holidayed this year in three countries;Greece Austria and France.My first ports of call(when self-catering)are always the above-mentioned stores.I note that the prices of many foodstuffs sold by these discounters in these locations are so low compared to Ireland as to make one weep.In some cases the difference is almost 100%.
That said,I have observed that many of the products on sale in these in these countries are also sourced locally which appears to me to be their policy,where possible.
Correspondents rightly point out minimal wage disparities between countries as an unlikely explanatory factor.I would point out however that sites,and house prices in all of these countries are much cheaper than in Ireland.
Firms such as Aldi &Lidl are simply passing on their operating costs to survive and thrive in a high cost environment.
If they find it impossible to source local Irish produce at keen prices,they must ship in much of their supplies from England and the Continent.They are currently doing this.
I also suspect the majority of indigenous food producers in the meat and dairy industry-most of which are farmer owned-have no wish to antagonize their other Irish clients(in the small market context of Ireland) by supplying these foreign upstarts with cheaper produce.
The irony is that these companies could offer invaluable help in opening up Europe to our own products.
There are now widespread calls here for the government to intervene in the free market and’cap’retail grocery prices in Ireland.But asking the government to intervene is,with respects, like deputising Bonnie and Clyde to help apprehend a bank robber.
Our government is the prime cause of ‘rip-off Ireland’,with it’s endless stealth taxes,soaring business rates,wasteful spending of public funds and inordinate wage increases to highly paid civil servants who have secure jobs and priceless-in the private sector-index linked pensions.A degree in economics is not a pre-requisite to understand this fact.
Certainly,these new firms on the block(Aldi &Lidl) may be doing some price gouging-and who can blame them,so great is their latitude for maximizing profits here?.Their Irish competitors can be thankful.The harsh reality is that they would all go out of business overnight if Aldi and Lidl transplanted continental prices here-along with their stores.As most checkout operators are now non-nationals,this might not be a job loss disaster for our citizens.