John Downing: Farm leaders have a fine tradition of cutting it on the political frontline
John Comer, the former ICMSA president from Mayo, has joined a long line of farm union leaders having a shot at national politics.
On Friday in Longford, Fianna Fáil delegates from the sprawling constituency of Midlands North West will choose their candidate for the forthcoming European Parliament elections on May 24. This constituency is some beast of a creation. It comprises Connacht, the three Republic counties of Ulster, and a chunk of North Leinster.
Fianna Fáil's original thinking was that sitting TDs would not stand in this Euro contest. Now that idea has gone by the wayside as former Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith of Cavan, Galway East TD Anne Rabbitte and former Donegal TD Niall Blaney, are all cited as potential candidates.
That makes things difficult for Mr Comer, the first Connacht farm leader to head the ICMSA. But we hear he's holding tough and he has pitched his case in terms of rural and provincial Ireland, on grounds that the strong towns all across this swathe of country are interlinked with the farmlands both socially and economically.
"I was never a quitter and I believe voters should have the widest available choice in any political contest," he told the Farming Independent.
Comer, like most Irish farm leaders, already knows his way around the EU machine. He has maintained contact with Brussels via membership of the Economic and Social Committee which groups employers, unions, farmers and social organisations, and meets frequently in the EU capital, offering a huge volume of information to its members.
Farm union leaders down the years have played a strong role in Irish political life dating back to this State's foundation when they had their own political party.
More recently, TJ Maher was an Independent MEP for the old Munster Constituency from 1979 until 1994. He was a very high-profile president of the IFA from the late 1960s. But like John Comer, his pitch was also towards rural communities and small town dwellers.