Farm Ireland
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Friday 15 December 2017

Farmers were jailed this week 50 years ago for protesting over poor incomes

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.

Farming Independent Team

The Irish Independent’s front page on this week 50 years ago carried a stark headline about the jailing of 19 farmers and a Government threat to proscribe the National Farmers’ Association (NFA — the predecessor of the IFA).

It was the latest escalation in the farmers’ rights campaign which had been launched by the NFA in 1966. By 1967, many farmers were refusing to pay local authority rates until the Government delivered a deal on bargaining rights and fair prices for farm produce.

“Last night, 19 farmers from six counties were in Mountjoy and Portlaoise jails, and tractors, household articles and furniture seized from two Co Kilkenny farmers were in the Garda Depot awaiting auction,” reported the Farming Independent. “The jailed farmers were arrested in counties Dublin, Kildare, Meath, Wicklow, Offaly and Longford for failure to  pay fines imposed for their part in the NFA’s national blockade of January 7.”

The situation was deemed serious enough by the authorities for then Taoiseach Jack Lynch to issue a televised message.  “We have no desire to see the disintegration of the NFA, but if it is a choice between that and the maintenance of our basic political institutions and the rule of law, the decision is clear,” said Mr Lynch.

Farming Independent April 25, 1967.
Farming Independent April 25, 1967.

All the resources of the State — “I emphasise all” — would be used by the Government, declared the Taoiseach.

The long march that defined the IFA

On October 7, 1966, NFA  President, Rickard Deasy set out on a 217-mile march from Bantry to Dublin. En route, he was joined by farmers from the four corners of the country over 30,000 converged on Dublin on October 19.

Nine farm leaders staged a 21-day sit-out on the steps of Government Buildings after then Minister for Agriculture, Charles Haughey refused to meet them.

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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

On November 9, the Taoiseach, Sean Lemass, intervened and a meeting with the new Minister for Agriculture, Neil Blaney was arranged.

The nine leaders were were Rickard Deasy, TJ Maher, Michael Gibbons, Joe Dunphy, Bob Stack, Jim Bergin, Sean Holland, Hugh Leddy, and Tom Cahill - the longest surviving member who died a year ago.

The Farmers Rights Campaign which lasted a further six months, 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.

The merger of the beet growers, horticulture, and fresh milk producers' led to the formation of the IFA in 1971.

Online Editors





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