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IFA: Sixty years of campaigning for farmers' rights

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TJ Maher (far right) leads the North Tipperary IFA  group on their march to Dublin during the 1966 farmers' rights campaign

TJ Maher (far right) leads the North Tipperary IFA group on their march to Dublin during the 1966 farmers' rights campaign

Farmers take their grievances to the streets of Dublin during the 1966 protests which saw then NFA president Rickard Deasy lead a 217-mile march from Bantry to the capital to demand a fair deal for farmers.

Farmers take their grievances to the streets of Dublin during the 1966 protests which saw then NFA president Rickard Deasy lead a 217-mile march from Bantry to the capital to demand a fair deal for farmers.

Michael Berkery (right) pictured with IFA President Tom Parlon in 2001.  The long-serving IFA general secretary helped lead the Association through the tense beef blockade of January 2000 which stopped all cattle slaughtering for several weeks.

Michael Berkery (right) pictured with IFA President Tom Parlon in 2001. The long-serving IFA general secretary helped lead the Association through the tense beef blockade of January 2000 which stopped all cattle slaughtering for several weeks.

Eight former Presidents of the IFA (from left): Donal Cashman, Tom Clinton, Paddy Lane, Tom Parlon, John Dillon, John Donnelly, Joe Rea and Alan Gillis pictured at the association's 50th anniversary celebration sin the RDS in 2005. Photo: Tom Burke

Eight former Presidents of the IFA (from left): Donal Cashman, Tom Clinton, Paddy Lane, Tom Parlon, John Dillon, John Donnelly, Joe Rea and Alan Gillis pictured at the association's 50th anniversary celebration sin the RDS in 2005. Photo: Tom Burke

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TJ Maher (far right) leads the North Tipperary IFA group on their march to Dublin during the 1966 farmers' rights campaign

A milestone in the history of the country's farmer organisations will be celebrated when the IFA marks the diamond jubilee of its founding today.

Nearly 2,000 farmers, politicians and agri-business representatives will celebrate the foundation of National Farmers Association (NFA), the precursor of the IFA, on January 6, 1955.

As the history of the association is recalled the names of three Tipperary men will find a place in the minds of many of the illustrious gathering.

Rickard Deasy, T J Maher and Michael Berkery have, both individually and collectively, left an indelible mark on the NFA-IFA.

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Eight former Presidents of the IFA (from left): Donal Cashman, Tom Clinton, Paddy Lane, Tom Parlon, John Dillon, John Donnelly, Joe Rea and Alan Gillis pictured at the association's 50th anniversary celebration sin the RDS in 2005. Photo: Tom Burke

Eight former Presidents of the IFA (from left): Donal Cashman, Tom Clinton, Paddy Lane, Tom Parlon, John Dillon, John Donnelly, Joe Rea and Alan Gillis pictured at the association's 50th anniversary celebration sin the RDS in 2005. Photo: Tom Burke

Eight former Presidents of the IFA (from left): Donal Cashman, Tom Clinton, Paddy Lane, Tom Parlon, John Dillon, John Donnelly, Joe Rea and Alan Gillis pictured at the association's 50th anniversary celebration sin the RDS in 2005. Photo: Tom Burke

Their contributions span the period from the association's founding through to the present day.

Rickard Deasy

Founding member, Rickard Deasy, who farmed at Carrigahorig in north Tipperary, became the second national president of the NFA and led the organisation during the momentous period from 1962 to 1967.

Born in March 1916, he was educated at Ampleforth College in Yorkshire, England. He went on to graduate from Christ Church, Oxford University, with a Bachelor of Arts degree, before serving as a captain in the Irish Army during World War II.

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Michael Berkery (right) pictured with IFA President Tom Parlon in 2001.  The long-serving IFA general secretary helped lead the Association through the tense beef blockade of January 2000 which stopped all cattle slaughtering for several weeks.

Michael Berkery (right) pictured with IFA President Tom Parlon in 2001. The long-serving IFA general secretary helped lead the Association through the tense beef blockade of January 2000 which stopped all cattle slaughtering for several weeks.

Michael Berkery (right) pictured with IFA President Tom Parlon in 2001. The long-serving IFA general secretary helped lead the Association through the tense beef blockade of January 2000 which stopped all cattle slaughtering for several weeks.

In January 1962 he became president of NFA succeeding the inaugural leader, Dr Juan Greene. It was a decade before Ireland joined the EEC. Agriculture was impoverished, with a high dependency on the British market for live exports of store cattle.

Dairy farming was developing in the south of the country.

The first creameries were being built west of the Shannon where average peak milk supply was about eight gallons per day.

The Government programme for economic expansion encouraged increased production of livestock, but the export market collapsed in 1966, with an estimated 200,000 surplus animals on Irish farms.

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Farmers take their grievances to the streets of Dublin during the 1966 protests which saw then NFA president Rickard Deasy lead a 217-mile march from Bantry to the capital to demand a fair deal for farmers.

Farmers take their grievances to the streets of Dublin during the 1966 protests which saw then NFA president Rickard Deasy lead a 217-mile march from Bantry to the capital to demand a fair deal for farmers.

Farmers take their grievances to the streets of Dublin during the 1966 protests which saw then NFA president Rickard Deasy lead a 217-mile march from Bantry to the capital to demand a fair deal for farmers.

A survey by the Agricultural Institute at the time estimated the income of 100,000 Irish farmers at £5 per week or less.

By the mid 1960s falling farm incomes and a belief that agriculture was losing ground to industry in the rapidly changing Ireland resulted in the farmers taking protests to the streets.

The key concerns for the 1966 protests were low product prices, low incomes and high rates on land.

Rickard Deasy was to become best known for his leadership of these protests which were dubbed the Farmers Rights Campaign. The NFA was seeking:

* The right to negotiate with Government on behalf of farmers;

* Changes to the taxation system, in particular reform of the penal system of rates on land;

* The promotion of better farming based on knowledge and research, and the promotion of better farm business.

On October 7, 1966 Deasy set out to lead farmers in a 217-mile march from Bantry to Dublin, with farmers groups from other parts of the country converging in on the capital.

The march culminated in a sit-down on the steps of Government Buildings which caught the imagination of the general public after the minister for agriculture of the day, Charles Haughey, refused to meet the farmer representatives.

The Farmers Rights Campaign lasted a further six months, and resulted in farmers being jailed and goods and animals seized from farms for non-payment of rates.

The campaign eventually won for NFA the right to negotiate with the Government on behalf of farmers.

Positive measures were introduced by Government, resulting in some relief from agricultural rates, income support for low-income farmers, and the establishment of marketing boards for farm produce.

The latter concession would result in the establishment of CBF (Córas Beostoic agus Feola) to market Irish meat. This was the legacy of Rickard Deasy's presidency.

TJ Maher

TJ Maher grew up on a small farm at Boherlahan, outside Cashel, where he was born in 1922. Maher was also a founder member of the NFA, having graduated through the ranks of Macra na Feirme.

He is remembered by most people as one of the great orators of Irish public life of the 1970s, a skill which was honed during his days with Macra.

He was always remembered by farmers as one of the most distinguished leaders of NFA-IFA.

In 1967 he succeeded Rickard Deasy as the third NFA president.

He presided over the NFA when it merged with four smaller organisations representing specific sectors - including Leinster Milk Producers (now Fresh Milk Producers), beet growers and horticulture growers - to form the IFA in 1971.

Maher who was the last president of NFA and the first president of IFA became the only leader of both organisations and the longest serving president in the six decades, reigning for a continuous period from 1967 to 1976.

He led the IFA in campaigning for EEC membership in the referendum in 1972. Ireland's membership of the EEC gave farmers access to European markets and better prices. It also gave a great impetus to the development of Irish agriculture and the wider food industry.

As the national farm organisation in this country, IFA became the representative of Irish farmers in COPA, the coordinating body of farm organisations in the member states, and on the influential EU Commission advisory committees.

In 1977 he became president of the Irish Co-Operative Organisation Society (ICOS) serving the movement for the following six years.

He was elected to the European Parliament at the 1979 European election for the Munster constituency as an independent, receiving the largest vote in the country.

He polled 86,208 votes, equivalent to 1.2 quotas and was re-elected at the 1984 and 1989 European elections. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Limerick in 1997.

He was a founder member and chairman of the third World development body, Bóthar.

Michael Berkery

When Michael Berkery joined the IFA as secretary of the association's national pigs committee in 1978, he could not have envisaged the role he was set to play in the future of the movement.

A farmer's son from Toomevara outside Nenagh, he trained and worked in the pig industry and moved to the IFA from the emerging Kerry Co-op.

Five years later his leadership qualities were recognised with his appointment as general secretary of the organisation, a position he held for the following quarter of a century.

He worked with eight IFA presidents and negotiated with six taoisigh and seven ministers for agriculture on behalf of farmers. He led the IFA negotiations in Social Partnership from the start in 1987 and played a major role in the development of European farmer policy as a member of COPA (European Farmer Organisation body).

Over his 25 years at the helm of the IFA, he helped to steer the organisation through some choppy waters, one of the highlights of which must have been in January 2000 when with president, Tom Parlon, they led the farmers through the beef factory blockade.

Incensed by poor beef prices and the threat of the doubling of a factory levy, IFA mounted a beef factory blockade, which stopped all cattle slaughtering in January 2000.

Tensions intensified when the factory bosses secured a court injunction, and the IFA became liable for a fine of €100,000 a day. The voluntary officers of the association all resigned overnight.

He was politically very sharp with an exceptional ability to read the mood of both farmers and politicians.

This contributed hugely to his success in ploughing the furrow between the diverse farming interests in the IFA.

He is a member of the Agricultural Trust and chairman of FBD, the farmer founded insurance company which has premium income of €350m and assets of €1bn.

Landmark years for Irish farming

1955

On January 6, 1955 more than 2,000 farmers packed The Four Provinces Ballroom, Harcourt Street, Dublin, where Juan Greene (below) made the formal proposal to establish the National Farmers' Association (NFA). The first elections to the national executive were held in May of that yea

1966

The NFA Farmers' Rights Campaign in 1966 gained national recognition for the association. Members marched on Dublin from around the country to demand a 'fairer deal' for farmers. The march culminated in a sit-in for 21 days on the steps of Government Buildings.

The organisation responded to continued government resistance, with a road and bridge blockade and rates strike which resulted in dozens of NFA members being jailed for months. The right to negotiate on key legislation, and the establishment of marketing and advisory boards with farmer representatives, brought the campaign to an end.

1971

The change in name from NFA (National Farmers Association) to IFA (Irish Farmers Association) in 1971 was followed with the move of its Dublin headquarters from Earlsfort Terrace to the newly built Irish Farm Centre at Bluebell a year later. The Bluebell facility was also to become the home to The Irish Farmers Journal, FBD, Macra na Feirme, and a number of other farm bodies. An office in Brussels and regional offices across Ireland were later established.

1972-73

The IFA supported Ireland's entry into the European Community and the association was a prominent campaigner in favour of the successful 1972 referendum which saw Ireland join the EEC the following year.

The NFA was responsible for the establishment of Farmer Business Developments (FBD) in the late 1960s which led to Ireland's most successful domestic insurance company.

The IFA was also actively involved with the foundation of Cork Marts-IMP, the ultimately doomed foray by the Cork livestock marketing group into beef processing. The farm body was also involved in the establishment of the Irish Farm Accounts Co-operative (IFAC), an accountancy business which aimed to provide specialist services to farmers.

2000

In January 2000 the 'blockade' of beef factories over the prices being paid for stock led to court injunctions being granted against the IFA by the High Court. The IFA became liable for a fine of €100,000 a day if the protest were continued. The voluntary officers of the association all resigned overnight. Farmers maintained their protest.

IFA Presidents 1955 - 2015

1955 - 1962 Juan Greene, Kildare

1962 -- 1967 Rickard Deasy, Tipperary

1967 - 1976 T J Mahe, rTipperary

1976 - 1980 Paddy Lane, Clare

1980 - 1984 Donie Cashman, Cork

1984 - 1988 Joe Rea, Tipperary

1988 - 1990 Tom Clinton, Meath

1990 - 1994 Allan Gillis, Kildare

1994 - 1998 John Donnelly, Galway

1998 - 2002 Tom Parlon, Offaly

2002 - 2006 John Dillon, Limerick

2006 - 2010 Padraig Walshe, Laois

2010 - 2014 John Bryan, Kilkenny

2014 - 2018 Eddie Downey, Meath

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