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Saturday 17 November 2018

Opinion: Walsh's offensive farmer-baiting comments made me lose my rag

Ted Walsh has blasted county councils and farmers who fail to deal with ragworth
Ted Walsh has blasted county councils and farmers who fail to deal with ragworth
Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

I had intended to dedicate this column to the achievements of Ireland's women's hockey team but I have put it off for a week to respond to Ted Walsh's comments on farmers and ragwort, which I consider to be totally unacceptable.

The dual Grand National-winning trainer and former champion amateur jockey is a long-time member of RTÉ's racing commentary panel and renowned for his fast tongue and sharp wit.

As such, as part of a light-hearted #AskTed segment, he is quick-fired questions about everything from his favourite takeaway to his opinion of Love Island.

Down through the years, he has provided plenty of entertainment, but his reply to a question during the coverage of Galway Races about ragwort included the following:

"Coming down the fields there, and looking in at the ragwort, I think it's an absolute disgrace… the county councils should be shot and the dirty farmers that let it grow up around them... shoot them as well. Shoot the whole lot of them."

I was stunned at what he'd said. And there was not a word of dissent from anyone else on the panel.

RTÉ Racing put the segment up on its Twitter feed, where there was some negative reaction but, for the most part, it was laughed off.

I accept there is merit to what Ted said: ragwort does not look pretty and can be dangerous if eaten (though this rarely happens when it is standing).

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But the choice of language was highly offensive. It was out of line for a national public service broadcaster, supported by our licence fees.

It demonstrated a lack of understanding and empathy with the unprecedented challenges that farmers have faced this year and those coming down the road as we head towards winter.

I believe this kind of denigration is damaging to the morale in farming, which is already at an all-time low.

For the past number of months, farmers have had to work hard and deal with considerable challenges to keep their stock watered and fed.

It is inevitable that some of the usual seasonal jobs, including the pulling of ragwort, had to take a back seat.

The drought may have eased but the pressure has not evaporated. Grass growth is only slowly recovering and it's too late to make up for time lost in terms of saving fodder.

People do desperate things in desperate times. Of the many stories circulating, one recent one locally is of two farmers getting into a fight in a field over straw. They are both decent people, just trying to secure fodder for their stock.

I consider that we keep our own farm fairly tidy. Yet, even so, a few bits of ragwort more than usual have gotten away on us this year. I resent being called "dirty" for that.

I am very disappointed that none of the farming organisations has seen fit to come out and speak up for their members.

I do believe this kind of commentary is not representative of how farmers are generally regarded - think of how grateful people were during the snow - but if it is allowed to pass unchallenged, the more 'acceptable' it becomes.

Any self-respecting young person hearing such words would likely say to themselves, "this is not something that I want to be part of".

If agriculture is to thrive, it has to attract and keep, ambitious, energetic, positive people.

I expect there are those who will say that I should lighten up.

My response to that is, if something similarly derogative was said about any other section of the population, say Travellers, migrants or the homeless, there would be uproar!

Indo Farming

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