Beef prices, broadband and rural isolation are top of the agenda for farmers running in this week's local elections

Farming politicans focus on the grassroots issues

It might be too early to put the election posters on lamp posts but Keith Suffin is getting his message out early as the Fine Gael local elections candidate goes about his daily business in Boyle, Co. Roscommon. Photo Brian Farrell
It might be too early to put the election posters on lamp posts but Keith Suffin is getting his message out early as the Fine Gael local elections candidate goes about his daily business in Boyle, Co. Roscommon. Photo Brian Farrell
Mark Maguire
Eoin Barry
Eamon Moore
Claire Fox

Claire Fox

A week in politics is a long time. A lot of things can change: you're loved on a Monday and loathed by the time the seventh day rolls around. Well a week is a long time for farmers too. Blue skies and decent prices can be followed by black clouds and depressing returns in a matter of days.

It's perhaps these similarities that give those from an agricultural background the steadfast qualities needed to put their heads above the parapet and stand for public office.

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One such farmer is Sinn Féin candidate Mark Maguire, who was nicknamed 'No Fodder, No Bother' for his response to last year's drought.

The 30-year-old dairy farmer and plasterer from Moyne, Co Longford set up a fodder service on Facebook to match farmers with feed deficits with those with surplus amounts.

Local issues: Independent Pierce O’Loughlin on his farm in Carrick-on-Suir. Photo: Damien Eagers
Local issues: Independent Pierce O’Loughlin on his farm in Carrick-on-Suir. Photo: Damien Eagers

"In all, fodder was sourced for over 300 farmers. It was because of that that somebody approached me to run in the local elections and after a bit of thought I said yes," he says.

Mark has 30 cows and has no plans to expand as he feels there should still be a place for the small dairy farmer, especially with the focus on carbon emissions. He is campaigning for the re-introduction of the Early Retirement Scheme to make land more accessible to young farmers and wants to make the Farm Assist less bureaucratic.

In terms of social issues, he says the local doctor surgery closed in Legga due to lack of broadband and he wants to make every effort to reduce rural isolation.

"I would lobby to set up a bus to bring farmers living on their own to bingo or to the pub in the evenings," he says. "I'd try encourage them to get involved in social media and I'd do my best to set up classes especially for them to get trained in computers as they can sometimes be intimidated if there are young people in the class."

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Three hours south, Tipperary Independent candidate Pierce O'Loughlin from Carrick-on-Suir is no stranger to the coal face of farming. He sold off all his cattle last autumn after the summer drought and now has 40 Limousin and Saler suckler cows.

"The drought tore things apart for us. We usually do two cuts of silage and would get 100 bales from the first cut then 80 from the second. Last year we did three cuts and only got 90 altogether," says Pierce, who also runs a printing business.

Fine Gael candidate Dan McSweeney with Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe. Photo: Press 22
Fine Gael candidate Dan McSweeney with Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe. Photo: Press 22

"We got terrible prices for the cattle but it was the best thing we did as it allowed us to survive the winter."

He adds that the closure of Carrick-on-Suir Mart has been a "huge blow" to the farming community and local businesses.

"I make the point to farmers I meet that I will be their voice and represent them," he says. "I'm a true independent candidate and fearless. I know the issues facing farmers.

"The traffic flow for tractors and trailers is very slow in the town. It needs to be improved as it's a nightmare. Farmers who want to bring silage or bales from Clonmel to Waterford have to go through Carrick-on-Suir, they've no other option."

Labour candidate Eoin Barry, 33, a dairy farmer's son - now a social worker - from Wolfhill, Co Laois adds: "In Leinster the fear of crime is so large in rural areas that elderly constituents are often afraid to open the door.

"Numbers have dropped recently but people are worried as burglary of farm equipment has been raised, and even when we knock on the door, elderly people can be afraid to open it for fear it's criminal activity."

Meanwhile, suckler/sheep farmer and publican Eamon Moore is hoping it'll be second time lucky for him as he runs for Fianna Fáil in the Ballina constituency in Co Mayo. He is a strong advocate of the policies of the Beef Plan Movement and feels it's important to have the issues of beef farmers voiced in council chambers.

"The Four Movement Rule is a big issue and is putting the man buying cattle off the road," he says. "If you've more than two movements buyers don't want to know about you."

As owner of the Thatch pub in Crossmolina, Eamon says not enough is being done to stem business closures and that tax breaks need to be offered to pub owners to provide transport to their customers or incentives for taxis to provide transfer services due to drink driving laws.

"I've seen so many businesses close down and the Minister for Transport doesn't care about us. He brought in a law that has affected pub numbers and jobs but has brought nothing in to combat isolation," he says.

While most 20-year-olds are confused about their career path, student and farmer Dan McSweeney is certain that his lies in politics.

Dan is studying Law and Taxation in Limerick Institute of Technology is the second youngest candidate running in the local election in the country. Running for Fine Gael, he wants to be a fresh voice for farmers; he came face to face with the harsh realities of farming when his father Michael lost his eye during a farm accident last summer.

"I did a lot of work on farm safety in school; it's something I'm very passionate about," he says. "Dad's back now working full-time and I hope to go dairy and beef farming full-time in a few years but I want to get some life experience first."

Dan thinks CAP reform and climate change are going to impact farmers "big time" and that's why he believes "new fresh blood" is needed to tackle these issues, especially when his voting region Limerick City West has no rural representative.

'The €100m beef package is only a temporary band-aid to cover retrospective losses'

Liam Minehan has spent the best part of a decade lobbying politicians on issues close to his heart.

An independent candidate in the European elections for the Ireland South constituency, Liam (pictured) has been a key player in the Fight the Pipe campaign in North Tipperary, opposing the Shannon Water Extraction Scheme proposal to pump water from the Shannon through a 170km pipe to Dublin.

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Liam Minehan

"I'd grin and bear it if I thought the pipe was necessary but it isn't," Liam says. "It would stop me from being able to milk my cows while it's being built. It would finish the farm and destroy my legacy."

Liam says years of lobbying politicians opened his eyes to the waste of taxpayers' money in Ireland.

"This is a rural Ireland issue. The pipe fiasco has shown me that everything goes to Dublin," he says.

"The majority of students go to Dublin for college. The brightest and best leave and they never come back. There's incredible brain drain."

Former Fine Gael senator Fidelma Healy Eames, based in Oranmore, Co Galway, is determined to fight for beef farmers like her husband Michael if she gets a Midlands-North West seat.

"I'm sceptical of the €100m beef package introduced by the EU. What good will it be if the Mercosur deal goes through and beef from South America is allowed in? It was telling that it was introduced a week before the election," she says.

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Fidelma Healy Eames

"The money is only a temporary band-aid to cover retrospective losses. The EU and government need to focus on ending anti-competitive practices and the dominance of feed-lots."

Fidelma (pictured) would like to focus on developing the EU Smart Villages programmes to revive rural areas.

"We need to develop infrastructure that stands the test of time - there's been too much centralisation," she says.

"Young people are emigrating and never coming back."

'We need to bring CAP in line with EU environmental policies'

Saoirse McHugh from Achill Island, Co Mayo always viewed politicians as some sort of different species. It was only when Green Party leader Eamon Ryan suggested she run as MEP candidate for the North-West that the tables turned.

Saoirse, from a hill sheep farming family, studied Genetics in UCD and added a Masters in Sustainable Agriculture in 2013, before working with SeedSavers in Co Clare for a period.

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Saoirse McHugh

She feels trade and agriculture policies in the EU are often in conflict with each other and there is a need for a common food policy and less emphasis on increasing production.

"I have met many farmers who feel under pressure as they feel the need to keep producing more and more," she says. "They feel they can't escape. We need to bring CAP in line with environmental policies."

Saoirse was appalled by the recent footage that allegedly showed Irish calves being mistreated in France.

"Live exports are there to try and alleviate domestic supply, we can't keep patching up the system. Where will this end? When the price goes down the situation will be worse."

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