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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: May 27, 2009 @ 10:26 am

    On the Road in Darkest Kilkenny

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    Macra na Feirme, representing the young farming sector, did a laudable act of public service by organising a debate in Kilkenny last night between the candidates for the three European Parliament seats in the Ireland East (formerly Leinster) constituency.


     Avril Doyle watches the votes being counted in the Ireland East constituency in 2004, when she narrowly won a second Fine Gael seat in Europe (Photograph: Cyril Byrne)

    The attendance was rather poor, unlike a similar debate organised in the South (Munster) area. Farming used to be the Big Beast of the Irish economy but has gone through many changes and no longer occupies the commanding heights.

    We journos are always looking for a news story and that often means a row. The attack on Labour’s Nessa Childers by retiring Fine Gael MEP Avril Doyle, who said she was a “Foxrock Girl”, suggested that the Kilkenny debate might be a sparky encounter.

    Unfortunately, from a news point of view, Avril wasn’t there. Her party colleagues Mairéad McGuinness MEP and Senator John Paul Phelan, who is campaigning for the seat formerly held by Ms Doyle, refrained from any direct attacks on Ms Childers.

    Ms McGuinness is a surefire, guaranteed seat-winner on Friday week. Even if she had felt like attacking her Labour rival, which I rather doubt, she didn’t need to do it. If Senator Phelan had gone all aggressive he would only have damaged himself: it is an unwritten rule of public discourse that a man cannot engage in sharp criticism of a woman on a platform or the airwaves. Chivalry still rules, or maybe it’s just political correctness. Anyone remember Pádraig Flynn’s self-destructive salvo against Mary Robinson?

    Ms Childers seemed nervous: she lives in Dublin city and Agriculture is not her speciality. She acquitted herself reasonably well under the circumstances, unlike that recent radio appearance where she floundered over farming issues.

    Incumbent MEP Liam Aylward is one of the quieter Fianna Fáil types but quite formidable in his way. He has a good grasp of the “Ag” topic, especially in the EU context (and is there any other context for Irish farming these days?)

    It sounds like farmers are hurting. Of course they have been crying ‘wolf” for so many decades that we city slickers find it hard to take them seriously. Most farmers now have industrial jobs, it seems. Or at least they had until the Recession descended upon us.

    Sinn Féin’s Kathleen Funchion did quite well for a newcomer: she was on home ground and came across as less shy and diffident than when she appeared at a press conference in Dublin with Gerry Adams and Mary Lou, who did not even bother inviting her to take questions. (They did the same to Pádraig Mac Lochlainn at Leinster House a while back – what have these two got against country people?)

    Thomas Byrne TD,  of Fianna Fáil, is a bright lad, though clearly a reluctant candidate in this race. His job is to gather up votes at the northern end of the constituency (his base is in Meath). Don’t worry, Thomas, you will get your reward for your sacrifice some day. That junior ministry will be yours, I have no doubt. John Healy called it “the half-car”.

    The “star turn” of the evening was Jim Tallon, Independent. He sang his answers to the questions. In the process he was invited by a member of the audience to sing at a forthcoming wedding. This man should have his own radio show, although it won’t be on Lyric FM.

    Another Independent, Paddy Garvey, spoke in general terms and did not really answer the questions in any specific way. He told us how he had read Aldous Huxley’s novel, Brave New World and that this offered a vision of the future. Endearingly, he called the author “Aloysius Huxley”.

    There wasn’t a lot of news in my trip to Kilkenny but I enjoyed it. Wedding-singers, novelists called Aloysius: doncha’ just love this little country of ours?

    P.S. Word has it Ganley is going well in North-West. FF are getting in the big guns to take out SF in Dublin (metaphorically speaking of course!) and seem confident Eoin Ryan can do it. Who is going to win Dublin Central? Every one I know has a different opinion. Looking at a Labour election poster for Dublin South, I was moved to reflect that life is like an Alex White campaign: you think you are going great guns and the sun is shining on your bright new Dáil destiny, then a George Lee come along to rain on your parade. Wotabout Munster: can Alan Kelly take Kathy Sinnott’s place? If campaigning over a long period of time means anything, he should, but the public seems to be in two minds about Labour at the moment.

    • Harry Leech says:

      “It sounds like farmers are hurting. Of course they have been crying ‘wolf’ for so many decades that we city slickers find it hard to take them seriously. Most farmers now have industrial jobs, it seems. Or at least they had until the Recession descended upon us.”

      As a confirmed city slicker with a farming background, I can understand the disconnect between a lot of urbanites and the food producing industry. If you don’t see the work that goes into food production, it’s hard to appreciate the value of that food and those who produce it.

      What most fail to grasp is that full-time farmers work far longer than any urbanites (myself included) for far lower wages. EU Grants are for the most part beneficial only to consumers in order to keep food cheap: Farmers get the same now as they did in the 1970′s for Milk and while the cost of beef continues to increase for consumers, the current cost of a bullock (where beef comes from) is the same as it was in the early 1980′s.

      When you consider that, it’s easy to understand why farmers can’t compete without EU grants.

      The alternative? Cut off the grants, with the result of Ireland’s 300,000 food produce industry, which has small profit outflow from the economy (unlike the multi-nationals), going belly-up and we import the low quality food from outside the EU that is subject to very little regulation. We’ve seen what happens when regulation gets stripped away in Banking and when it comes down to something as important as the food that you eat, we need the highest quality producers in place.

      Farmers are hurting and, as anyone who lives in a country town will tell you, when farmers are hurting the whole local non-farming community does too.

    • Kynos says:

      We used to have 300,000 small independent farmers. Now we’ve 30,000 famers or something less than that and 300,000 food industry jobs. Hmmm.

    • Frank Jameson says:

      So Fine Gael and Avril (Belton) Doyle are against girls from Foxrock?

    • Ray D says:

      We can look forward to the end of the single payment in 2013. We will have a different view of the EU and its huge central bureaucracy and massively wasteful and uncontrolled spend when we are paying in much more that we get out. The benefits of the EU for us on the periphery are in endgame.

    • Sean Clarke says:

      Harry Leech’s comments leave out the most important issues for consumers.

      The CAP is costly, wasteful and most of the money goes to already-wealthy people (see Ryanair boss).
      The mystery is how small farmers allowed this to happen , but it seems they buy the guff from FF & FG every time.
      Avril Doyle is a case in point. This city-bred millionaire’s daughter seems to think she can get away with it still.

      Sean Clarke , Killiney Co Dublin. (Just around the corner from Avril Doyle’s gaff!)

    • Deaglán says:

      Sean, I think you may be confusing Ms Doyle with somebody else? She lives in Wexford, although originally from Dublin. Her father, the late Richard Belton, was a medical doctor and Senator. The Beltons are of course one of the key Fine Gael families down through the years.

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