Farm Ireland

Thursday 22 March 2018

IFA need both small farmers & wider public

Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

The turnout so far in the IFA election demonstrates a worrying level of apathy among members.

Part of the reason for this is undoubtedly the lack of contests for regional chairpersons in Connacht, Leinster and Ulster. But the turnouts are not hectic in Munster either.

There is also an undercurrent of dissatisfaction bubbling in parts of the country, with one western branch refusing to vote because of the level of anger among its members.

All the while, commentators have been saying that the contest for national president is too close to call.

Or could it be that there are not enough points of difference between the candidates?

Have you noticed the complete absence of any talk how either candidate envisages winning over the non-farming public to the IFA's point of view?

The idea that the IFA should just look after the concerns of members and let somebody else worry about what the wider public thinks is baloney in this day and age. At barely 5pc, farmers represent a tiny and shrinking proportion of the national workforce. The figure is closer to 1pc in Britain.


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The IFA is still the envy of other trade unions in terms of its structure and the implicit leverage it has at the ballot box in local and national elections.

But political decisions are largely shaped by public opinion, and the public is becoming increasingly sceptical of 'official' Ireland, be it in the form of the age-old institutions of the Church, the Oireachtas or corporate giants.

The closeness of the IFA to of the Department of Agriculture runs the risk of the organisation being viewed as simply "an arm of the State," as Fintan O'Toole recently put it on RTE's Countrywide radio programme.

Instead, he believes that the IFA should be reaching out to the public, reminding consumers that farmers are key brokers in providing food that they can trust, an environment they can enjoy, and a backbone to our most rural communities.

But there has been barely a peep out of the IFA candidates about how they plan to keep the public on side.

That the pair of presidential candidates have barely 40 tweets between them speaks volumes about their efforts to engage with the wider public.

In contrast, if you talk to any large business that needs the public on its side, they all emphasise the importance of social media to engage with the public and earn their trust.

It was one thing for the IFA to risk alienating a large chunk of its membership by steadfastly refusing to go with Commissioner Declan Ciolos' attempts to make the distribution of CAP payments fairer.

But to continue to ignore an increasingly urban public would be short-sighted in the extreme.

Irish Independent