Po­lit­i­cal sys­tem is let­ting farm­ers down as TDs look af­ter their own

Irish Independent - Farming - - ANALYSIS - ANN FITZGER­ALD

WHAT is the main job of a politi­cian? To look af­ter those in need? No. World peace? No, that’s in beauty pageants. In the real world, a politi­cian’s pri­or­ity — ex­cept for one-term po­si­tions — is to en­sure their re-elec­tion.

Thus we saw very con­trast­ing stances by two gov­ern­ment min­is­ters at dif­fer­ent meet­ings last week.

A large crowd turned out to hear Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter Michael Creed at the IFA’s monthly county ex­ec­u­tive meet­ing in Port­laoise. Sev­eral suck­ler farm­ers ex­pressed their fears about the col­lapse of the sec­tor, but the min­is­ter main­tained his long-held stance that ex­ist­ing sup­ports are ad­e­quate.

“The €200 sup­port pay­ment (for suck­ler cows) is un­de­liv­er­able; it would be dis­hon­est of me to say that it was,” he said. “I think the demise of the sec­tor is a lit­tle ex­ag­ger­ated.”

On my hus­band’s re­turn from Port­laoise, he said he had never seen morale as low in beef.

Mean­while, Min­is­ter of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions De­nis Naugh­ten was at an­other very well at­tended IFA meet­ing in Bal­li­nasloe, in the heart of in his own con­stituency.

Vi­a­bil­ity

He said that “suck­lers are the key to vi­a­bil­ity of ru­ral Ire­land” and “we need to en­sure the sec­tor’s vi­a­bil­ity and long-term sus­tain­abil­ity”.

Maybe we need to look at the pol­i­tics of the two Min­is­ters to un­der­stand their dif­fer­ing views.

Min­is­ter Creed’s county, Cork, is home to 370,000 dairy cows, more than twice as many as sec­ond-placed Tip­per­ary, and well over one-quar­ter of the coun­try’s to­tal of 1.4m.

Within 20 years, though, suck­ler cow num­bers in Ire­land have dropped 30pc, from a peak of 1.248m (1998) to 864,000 (end of 2017), and that trend looks set to con­tinue. The rate of drop has ac­cel­er­ated since milk quo­tas ended.

Cork has less than 63,000 suck­ler cows — just 7pc of the to­tal, and less than a fifth its dairy cow pop­u­la­tion.

Min­is­ter Creed rep­re­sents Cork North-West, which stretches from Charleville, down through the dairy heart­lands of New­mar­ket and Kan­turk, on through his home­town of Mac­room and on to Crook­stown and Cross­barry.

I couldn’t come up with a break­down of farm­ers by type for Cork. No doubt there are more suck­ler farm­ers, but dairy­ing is seen as fash­ion­able and suck­ling not — within agri­cul­ture, and out­side.

As was said when Done­gal na­tive Mary Cough­lan was agri­cul­ture min­is­ter, “if sugar beet was grown in Done­gal, we’d still have a beet in­dus­try”. No votes were lost in Done­gal when sugar beet pro­duc­tion ended.

One thing a re­duced suck­ler sec­tor would achieve would be to pro­vide more scope for the con­tin­ued ex­pan­sion of the dairy herd, from a na­tional car­bon emis­sions view­point.

But if the suck­ler sec­tor is be­ing al­lowed to col­lapse, then I, as a suck­ler farmer, want the gov­ern­ment to have to come out and say so.

How­ever, this sce­nario also high­lights one of the ma­jor fail­ings of our po­lit­i­cal sys­tem: that de­ci­sions taken are seem­ingly de­pen­dent on whomever hap­pens to be in the hot seat at the time.

Where im­por­tant is­sues with long-term im­pli­ca­tions are in­volved, the least that should hap­pen is that any ac­tions — or in­ac­tions — would be dis­cussed with all con­cerned in­ter­ests.

Mean­while, while the IFA held a protest last week about the lack of sup­port for the beef sec­tor, hours af­ter­wards the IFA lead­er­ship was sit­ting down with Min­is­ter Creed to dis­cuss its bud­get sub­mis­sion.

The Min­is­ter even tweeted a photo of the event.

Pol­i­tics re­ally is a funny old game.

DE­CI­SIONS ON THESE BIG LONG-TERM IS­SUES NEED TO BE DIS­CUSSED WITH ALL THE CON­CERNED IN­TER­ESTS

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