A new initiative from the Department of Transport to supply free shoes and walking boots to the public has stirred controversy in farming circles.
The novel measure - which is being rolled out as part of the department’s commitment to ‘active travel’ and has been dubbed the ‘free footsie scheme’ - will see a €50 voucher for runners or boots given to everyone over the age of five to encourage more walking.
However, farmers who contacted the department were advised that the agriculture sector is not eligible, so the vouchers will not cover the purchase of wellingtons.
Moreover, officials were adamant that no ‘wellie derogation’ would be forthcoming at a later date.
The exclusion of wellies from the free footsie scheme has sparked fury among rural TDs and farm representatives.
“Many farmers are in wellingtons 10 hours a day at this time of the year. These lads and lassies are the doyens of active travel; for God's sake they’re at a half trot the whole time. You’d need to be on a bike to keep up with them,” one furious rural deputy commented.
“They’d have 5k walked before breakfast. But just because they’re not in some trendy runners or walking boots, they’re excluded from this measure. It’s not fair, not fair at all,” he maintained.
Similar sentiments were expressed by a leading farmer representative - who asked not to be named because of his/her/their promotion deal with a well-known wellington brand.
They accused the Department of blatant hypocrisy and double standards with regard to the footsie scheme.
“Up to nine million legs will enjoy the benefits of subsidised shoes and boots as a consequence of this legislation and you’d have to question if some of the footwear purchased will see much action,” he said.
Two or three pairs
“But if the department allowed wellies into the mix, they’d certainly get a bang for their buck. We all know farmers who go through two or three pairs of wellingtons a year.
“But then there are other lads who can’t afford to buy a new pair. You see them at the marts and their pins in an awful state from being welded into old battered wellingtons they got for Christmas three or four years ago. It would be an act of charity to give those farmers a break here,” the representative added.
But a low-ranking and clearly exasperated official at the Department of Transport ruled out any relaxing of the regulations governing the free footsie scheme.
“Where do you stop if you allow in wellingtons,” the flustered civil servant asked.
“If we pay for wellingtons, do cowboy boots get the nod as well. And what about waders or stylish knee boots or high boots for ladies,” he added, before hanging up.
To be fair to the official, he called back a few minutes later to say applications for the free footsie scheme will open on 1 April.