Revolution is underway in the world of farming politics
In the wake of mass protests across continental Europe, the age-old conflict between agriculture and bureaucratic power has reached a fever-pitch. Something must give. Political change is coming, and many Irish farmers are anxious not to be excluded from this revolution.
Thus the circumstances for the convening of a meeting at Mountbellew Mart, on the evening of Friday the 9th of February, chaired by chief organiser Donie Shine of the Irish Family Farm Rights Group (IFFG). On the agenda were various propositions, chiefly the doubling of the disadvantaged area payment, a subsidy of €300 on suckler cows with offspring, and a subsidy of €40 on breeding ewes.
James Reynolds, along with a number of National Party members, were in attendance before the beginning of the meeting, and Mr. Reynolds, who will be running in the EU elections for the Midlands-Northwest constituency, had an opportunity to discuss issues such as the government’s outrageous plan to cull 200,000 cows in the name of the “green” agenda.
Donie Shine opened the well attended meeting, addressing farmers from all over the west of Ireland. He addressed the failure of existing Irish agricultural organisations such as the IFA to protect the rights and interests of farmers. Highlighting the presence of government ministers at the AGMs of the three biggest farming organisations, and the lack of progress resulting from these meetings, Mr. Shine quickly concluded that the only solution for Irish farmers is to unite and exert pressure in order to influence the form of the next government, for the sake of the survival of the family farm, and the halting of the mass emigration of Irish young people.
Shine further outlined the environmental issues caused by abandonment of agricultural land, including forest fires.
Characterising the treatment of Irish farmers during and after the 2008 crash as “cruel blaggarding”, and levelling further criticisms against both the EU and super-stores such as Tesco for their role in the undermining of Irish agriculture, he went on to point out that 80% of grants are given to 20% of farmers, and once again insisted that the only solution is for like-minded people to come together and draft a plan for a more viable farming future.
The three headline points of the IFFG program having been explained by Shine, Gerry Connellan, former manager of Elphin Mart rose to speak, providing topical commentary on yet more of the issues which face rural people.
He spoke passionately of the “tooth and nail” fight which he had helped to wage as part of the IFFG for €300 on cows, and lamented the ultimate futility of this struggle. The audience was reminded that Fianna Fáil had promised €200, and that this was never delivered upon.
Bringing up the crucial importance of the marts to local economy, and the terrible effect upon an area of losing its mart, he discussed the historic importance of suckler farming in Galway, and brought much wanted attention to the phenomenon wherein farmers now feel that it would be “a sentence” to transfer their farms to their sons, even after these farms having sustained their families for generations.
A former member of the IFA himself, Mr. Connellan went on to question the direction taken by the organisation in recent years. He noted that IFA meetings had traditionally focused on food production, but that this energy has now been lost, and, despite population growth, no-one in the state seems to be concerned with the maintenance of our national food supply. This situation, so he declared, can not last. Something must give.
Not content merely with a criticism of the IFA, Connellan recounted also his argument with the ICBF over the implementation of the star system. There was general agreement that focus on the star system has undermined the overall standard of Irish beef cattle, and that a return to a more quality-based system would be beneficial.
Expounding upon the third point on the agenda, he recalled the IFFG’s bitter fight for a €40 subsidy on ewes, and the insulting result of the number being raised from just €10 to €12. Only at least €40, it was agreed, will make sheep farming viable in Ireland.
With AI down 20% this year, and rural Ireland, the town, and the mart teetering on the edge of survivability, Connellan re-iterated the statements of Donie Shine; with the government, the Department of Agriculture, and organisations such as the ICBF and Bord Bia providing no help to farmers, only a new government can bring any hope of change.
Shine was quick to agree, and emphasised the importance of new political figures. It does not matter, he said, who they are, and he insisted that it is the duty of the people to get behind anyone who is willing to stand up and advocate strongly for rural Ireland. He noted the absence of Sinn Féin TD Claire Kerrane, stating that he had got a call to inform him that she had to cancel her attendance at the meeting due to another appointment. He was also informed that Sinn Féin’s manifesto on agriculture is apparently not yet ready. There is definite hope, Shine concluded, with the people behind us.
Having covered an enormous amount of material in a short amount of time, the clear takeaway was that serious change is both necessary and possible, and that new political leadership is absolutely needed to make it happen.
In this spirit, the organisers opened the floor to the audience, and the first to take to the stage was the National Party’s own James Reynolds. As suckler famer, a nationalist, and a veteran of farming politics, Mr. Reynolds had plenty to talk about.
Praising the organisers for their arduous work in lobbying for farming interests, Reynolds engaged in some discussion about issues which they had raised. He added to the pile his own criticism of the SCEP scheme. In his speech, which is now available in full on the National Party YouTube channel, he explained how this scheme, with its in-built “claw-back” mechanism, was exploitative of the farmers of lesser means, and designed to be deliberately prohibitive.
True to form, Mr. Reynolds almost immediately turned his ire upon the viper’s nest of Dáil Éireann. He was quick to dismiss any notions of economic supports to farmers being unfeasible, pointing out the government’s massive expenditure in the destruction of the hotel and housing sectors by replacement immigration. He highlighted the burning hypocrisy of a state policy which would cull 200,000 cows under false environmental pretences, while simultaneously importing 200,000 immigrants.
Disgraced former Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney was sharply reprimanded for encouraging foreign corporations to use more Irish energy while simultaneously championing the closures of Lanesborough and Shannonbridge power stations, and Coveney’s responsibility in the abolition of milk quota’s was certainly not forgotten.
While offering appreciation for the importance of farm lobbying groups, Reynolds explained quite presciently the need for a solution which goes further. He dismissed independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice’s claim that the budget cap was fixed until 2027. A conscientious and determined government has the ability to make change happen, and Mr. Reynolds continued to articulate the magnitude of the opportunity presented by the upcoming European elections. Using the example of methane having now been excluded from the “green deal” – a radical policy adhered to by all government parties including Sinn Féin -, Reynolds laid bare the rare chance which has been presented to Irish farmers and rural people, to establish themselves as a political force.
He referred to as “scandalous” the fact that the EU farm budget has not changed in 20 years, and expressed also the shared outrage of those in attendance at the way in which farm supports were cut and the USC tax was implemented in order to bail out the banks in 2008.
With prohibitive “green” taxes, and rising inflation, the National Party leader illustrated how the price of production is now outstripping profit, and announced that a more substantial “front-loaded” formula should bs directed at suckler and sheep farmers, taking the time also to remind everyone of the ridiculous fact that the reference years for payments at present are 2000-2002, taking into consideration that 2001 was the year of foot and mouth disease.
The importance of the EU elections in which he is running was once again stressed. James Reynolds reminded those in attendance of his candidacy, declaring that he was running to save rural Ireland, and, if elected, would join the right-wing group of the European Parliament, who have been responsible for organising and representing the farmer’s protests across the continent. With the leftists losing their grip on power, the right are now ready to step up and fight the green agenda, and with Irish farmers – and Irish people at large – rapidly losing patience with the government, now is our opportunity to make sure that Ireland is represented in this new, pro-national faction.
In conclusion, Reynolds encouraged everyone in attendance, and particularly the organisers, to keep up their hard work, for it is through determination and co-operation that we, as a collective mass of conscientious Irish people, may enact real change in this country.
The discussion continued to go around the floor, including to independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice, who had at this stage arrived at the meeting.
One man suggested the implementation of a new early retirement scheme in order to make land available to younger farmers. One empassioned young farming man who was in attendance stated that young farmers in Ireland can’t get an inch of ground, and said that there was a serious problem of “armchair farmers” pontificating upon matter which are existential in nature to the rural youth.
Fitzmaurice agreed that young farmers need land, and suggested that any land which becomes available should be given to the youth.
This prompted a suggestion by one attendee to revive the land commission.
Mr. Fitzmaurice stated that marriage was also an obstacle to young farmers, claiming that many were too afraid to go farming in case their wife might leave them and take half the farm. He also said that it would be hard to get young people interested in farming when they could make €1000 a week doing other jobs and meet women on the weekends.
A man from Tipperary highlighted a plethora of issues pertaining to government incompetence and hypocrisy. He declared that if the government controlled the HSE as severely as they control farmers, then we might be getting somewhere, and he brought up the fact that €6 billion a year is given to NGOs in this country, stating that these groups are mainly comprised of people with useless liberal arts degrees who have never done a real day’s work, and have learned nothing in university save for transgenderism and left-wing ideology.
In this, he cited alternative right-wing media sources, generating a response from Mr. Fitzmaurice, who interrupted him to claim that liberal arts degrees are indeed valuable, and insisted upon the importance of gender equality and inclusion, stating that women can farm just as well as men, and any farming manifesto which does not prioritise the provision of opportunities to women will be a non-starter. He additionally gave his warm recommendations to the green cert program for facilitating the emigration of Irish skilled workers to Australia.
The man from the premier county would not be dissuaded, and pointed out that the green cert program does nothing for the “forgotten farmers”, ultimately prompting Fitzmaurice to accuse him personally of wanting greater entitlements than younger farmers. In that vain, Mr. Fitzmaurice praised the program of convergence for levelling the playing field.
Further discussions within the audience included the importance of individually viable farms, and the importance of promotion on social media. It was especially stressed that social media allows dissident figures to circumvent the power of well-funded organisations such as the IFA.
Michael Fitzmaurice concluded by casting some doubt upon the feasibility of an agricultural platform, stating that the real money-maker in Ireland is multi-national corporations. On his way out the door, Fitzmaurice, asked if he would support an IFFG political program, said: “I’ll support anyone, but it has to be common sense.”
Thus the ending of a very special meeting. Special in the sense that the issues facing Irish farmers were covered exhaustively, with solutions discussed at length. Those in attendance represented a broad church of farmers and rural people with a sincere and determined interest in creating lasting change in this country. With the dissatisfaction of Irish people with the government growing by the day, and opposition candidates already getting stuck into the rigorous work of canvassing and campaigning for their platforms, we can expect more such conventions going forward, and certainly many more appearances from James Reynolds in his bid to save rural Ireland, and enter the EU Parliament this year.
— Ross Culligan, Óige Náisiúnach