Margaret Donnelly: Farm leaders should spend more time listening to farmers
As the beef dispute looks set to slip into its seventh week, the defiance of some of the protesting farmers appears to be deepening, despite numerous rounds of talks and an agreement in principle over the weekend.
But protesting farmers need to be careful their defiance doesn't spill over into a situation that goes to a point of no return.
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Many of the seven organisations involved in the recent talks are splinter groups from the IFA, but this weekend saw them stand with a unified voice for farmers.
However, the farmer voice is weakening as more disaffected farmers exit traditional organisations over what they perceive as ineffectual efforts.
The Beef Plan Movement was the most significant splinter from IFA, but its star has waned as the factory protests have dragged on.
Beef farmers feel aggrieved their sector has been neglected in recent years. This sense of abandonment has grown to where new farming organisations that promise change gain traction.
The Beef Plan Movement certainly tapped into this sense of farmer anger, and their willingness to take on the beef processors gained them huge national support.
Unfortunately, Beef Plan lost what control it had over farmers during the protests and the Independent Farmers of Ireland now appear to have taken over from them.
However, this continual fracturing of farmer representation is not a positive development for the sector in the long-term.
Our farm leaders should spend more time talking to their members at the factory gates. It is obvious from the factory protests that the leading farm organisations are struggling to represent the views of the protesting farmers.
Maybe farm leaders should spend more time talking to their members?
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