Sunday 25 September 2016

'Old boys club' in IFA warned to consider woman for top job

Claire McCormack

Published 21/09/2016 | 02:30

Blogger and diary farmer Lorna Sixsmith with her children Kate and Will. Lorna described the IFA as 'an old boys club'. Photograph: James Flynn/APX
Blogger and diary farmer Lorna Sixsmith with her children Kate and Will. Lorna described the IFA as 'an old boys club'. Photograph: James Flynn/APX

It's time for a woman to take the reins at the Irish Farmer's Association in order to end its "old boys' club" traditions, a discussion at the National Ploughing Championship was told.

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Helen Harris, tillage farmer, writer and special guest ­speaker at the 'Women in ­Farming' talk in the Irish Independent tent on site in Screggan, Co Offaly, received a round of applause when she raised concerns over the lack of women in positions of power within the agri-sector.

Lorna Sixsmith, author, blogger and dairy farmer, also featured on the panel alongside Lorraine Keena, inter-county football and camogie star with Offaly.

"Women are absolutely ­under-represented and I've even had this out with Joe Healy, president of the IFA," said Ms Harris. "If they don't put women in top positions really, really fast, you are going to lose us. We really need to be there.

"I think it's really important, especially in the tillage sector. No one wants to be a token woman on a committee so it's really important that we value ourselves too."

Ms Harris also criticised popular use of the term "farmerette" to describe a female farmer. "I'm a farmer, not a farmerette. When I go out and get into my tractor and plough my field, it's no different than how a man does it. And if we accept those titles then we're as bad," she said.

Lorna Sixsmith described the IFA as "an old boys club".

"I don't necessarily mean that the IFA are stopping women but from a practical point of view if a couple have young children, it's not always possible for both of them to attend an IFA meeting. I think Joe Healy is constrained by the traditions of the organisation," she said.

She suggested the setting up of a separate "women in farming association".

"Obviously the ICA exists but I think it has moved in different direction," she said.

"We need an organisation for farm wives or farm women to provide them with-education, knowledge, self esteem and strength if they want it.

"It's time the Government, Department of Agriculture and Teagasc fund a group specifically for women in farming to ensure that more women enter the sector."

Lorraine Keena, who milks 126 cows on her own twice a day before going training, urged more young women in farming to share their stories and to act as role models for the next generation.

Irish Independent

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