Farmers must take the lead in showing leadership needed to get us out of this terrible mess
Good leadership can still get this country out of the financial morass. I'll go further, if we don't get good leadership, the current mess will get worse. Also, this is a time when informed farm leadership can also pay dividends.
Finance Minister Brian Lenihan has been a fast learner of his brief but is struggling to cope with banks whose assets continue to evaporate. Just as in the boom years we couldn't see the collapse coming, now it is hard to imagine a recovery.
Yet, if we get the leadership, recovery will come. And if people believe that we have reached the bottom of the property price slide, then they will start buying again. There is money out there. People never saved as much. It is reckoned that there is €70bn on deposit.
Greed got us into this mess. Greed can also help get us out of it. While property prices are expected to fall further, who would buy? But if property starts to rise again, investors and buyers would suddenly appear. If property started to rise in value, would the cost of the Anglo Irish and bank bail-outs start falling? When money starts circulating again, taxes will flow into the exchequer. This will help close the Budget deficit. This in turn will bring down the runaway cost of borrowing.
Instead of the vicious circle we would have a beneficial circle.
But such a benign and desirable transformation demands a drastic improvement in leadership. The mistakes that came with the bubble still have to be addressed. Chief among these was the benchmarking fiasco which has left us with one of the most expensive public and civil services in the world and huge inequity between the private and public workers. The Croke Park Agreement with the trade unions perpetuates this lack of fairness.
In the national interest I would love to see Lenihan and Brian Cowen scrapping all pay deals and starting with a blank sheet. Then every public servants' wage could be assessed in terms of the average industrial wage. Is a TD worth three times the average industrial wage at this critical juncture? Wouldn't a 50pc premium be more than plenty? That would cut a TD's current pay in half. Is it a national priority to pay department secretaries six times the average wage? Even worse is it priority to pay the retired financial regulator a pension of €144,000 a year, especially in light of the banking fiasco?
We need a far more radical tackling of the nation's finances than we have seen to date.
If the Government gave this sort of original leadership I believe they would get public support.
Unpopular decisions will also have to be made in farming for the industry's longer term good. Farm organisations will continue to lobby for support and fair play. But with such a gaping hole in the Finance Minister's bucket, farmers must look to other means of creating wealth and putting money in their pockets. A different type of leadership is required.
For interest, fair dues to the IFA for supporting the QPS (Quality Payment Scheme) in beef. The new payment grid was never going to get majority support, it still needs more tweaking, but the principle of payment for meat yield is still the correct direction to take. Association chief executive Pat Smith and former president Padraig Walshe showed leadership in this instance.
Farm bodies are going to have to show more leadership in tackling livestock diseases such as BVD, Johnes and IBR which cause loss and hardship on farms. Ireland is lagging behind the rest of Europe in eradicating these diseases when as a Food Island we should be giving the lead.
BVD has been described as an "orphan" disease with nobody taking a lead on eradication. The Department of Agriculture is like a rabbit transfixed in headlights when another national eradication scheme is mentioned. Vets and their organisation can make a contribution but they have never fronted a campaign.
If BVD eradication is to happen, and it's most desirable that it should, then farmers will have to take the lead. Once the will is there, the detailed mechanics of a farmer led eradication scheme can be worked out.
Farmer leadership is even more vital now because there is such change in the air. Food production is again getting national priority in Ireland. Worldwide there is a shortage of beef and sheep-meat and there is scope for significantly increased milk products. These are all products that come naturally to Irish farming.
Are Irish farmers going to cash in on the food demand or will they let the opportunity pass by? This is a time when there should be a return on investment in efficiency and technology. This can create wealth for Irish farming and for Ireland.
But it will need leaders to make it happen. The best place to find these leaders is within farming itself.
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