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Independent.ie

Saturday 10 December 2016

Interview: New Macra CEO vows to grow funding avenues and boost membership

The big interview: Denis Duggan

Claire McCormack

Published 04/11/2016 | 07:00

'There is a weight of expectation from current membership but also historical members,' says new Macra na Fairme ceo, Denis Duggan.
Photo: Arthur Carron
'There is a weight of expectation from current membership but also historical members,' says new Macra na Fairme ceo, Denis Duggan. Photo: Arthur Carron

Denis Duggan's first public appearance with Macra na Feirme was proposing a motion that 'women should be no more than three feet from the kitchen sink' at a debate in Clonoulty parish hall, Co Tipperary.

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"Naturally we lost," he jests, but the skills he developed in terms of constructing and asserting a clear and confident opinion in front of a crowd remained with him all the way to Macra headquarters where he now sits as newly-appointed CEO.

Looking around his office at exquisite, antique national trophies - similar in size to the Sam Maguire - for Amateur Drama, Public Speaking and Debating competitions of bygone years, it is hard to overlook the legacy of the voluntary rural youth organisation established in 1944.

Although Mr Duggan doesn't come from an immediately strong farming family (his father used to be a sheep farmer many years ago), he spent his childhood growing up in the dairy and beef stronghold of Burgess, Co Tipperary.

"I had a big interest in farming growing up, I spent all my summers on sheep relief farms nearby, I loved it. As a kid, myself and a pal took over a room in the house with all our Britains tractors and the whole thing laid out, it was a no-go area for my three sisters," he laughed.

He has always been aware of the importance of Macra Na Feirme in rural Ireland.

"When it was announced first I was amazed at the number of colleagues, friends and neighbours, and their parents, wishing me well and recalling their involvement with Macra 20 or 40 or 60 years ago.

"There is a weight of expectation from current membership but also historical members and all the organisations it has had a hand in establishing over a lifetime," said Mr Duggan who was an active Macra member during his college days at LIT Tipperary where he studied sustainable rural development.

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During his first interview at the helm of the organisation, the father of three said he intends to honour and progress Macra's rich heritage for future generations.

"My focus at the moment is looking at where the organisation is going, how it needs to change, and what it needs to grow.

"I've put a proposal to our national council and executive council which they have just endorsed so we are about to go to tender and drive that growth forward."

He believes Macra's 'Young Farmer SkillNet Progamme' and 'Land Mobility Service' project are hugely important in terms of sustainability of the agri industry and access to land for young farmers.

"The land mobility service has been very successful and we're coming to the end of the three-year pilot phase so we're looking at putting the business plan in place to roll it out hopefully on a national basis over the next couple of years. If young farmers and students don't have access to land then you're not going to have 100,000 farmers in 10 or 20 years' time," he said.

Increasing farmer, and non-farmer, membership from 9,000 to 12,000 is another goal. Securing more financial support by growing Macra's corporate partners is also a central aim.

The former regional development executive with Enterprise Ireland is well positioned to lobby and negotiate after spending three years as political advisor to Fine Gael heavyweight Michael Lowry.

"I was with him during the boom from 2004-2007, a very interesting time. He was in opposition. I got lots of exposure working across Dáil and parliamentary issues so it was a good insight into the political system first hand," he said.

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