‘We want a future in rural Ireland’: Macra farmers walk 79km to Dáil in protest

Next generation of farmers say they will drive change, but Greens may get rude election awakening if they ignore plight

Some 50 young farmers walked from Athy to Government buildings in Dublin to highlight issues they face in rural Ireland.

Some 50 young farmers arrived at Government buildings in Dublin on Wednesday to highlight issues they face in rural Ireland, after completing a 16 hour, 79km walk to Dublin to hand-deliver their letters to the Taoiseach and Tanaiste.

Macra ne Feirme, a voluntary organisation representing some 10,000 young people between the ages of 17 and 35 in rural Ireland, was formed 79 years ago in 1944, and as part of their commemorations, the group undertook a 79km walk from Athy, Co Kildare to Government buildings in Dublin to raise their concerns.

The main issues highlighted by the group were difficulty accessing affordable housing, “cumbersome” housing planning guidelines, “disjointed and sparse healthcare services for rural communities,” and a lack of public transport for rural Ireland.

The group also said there was “no recognition or engagement by Government on a farming succession scheme” and raised concerns about the “lack of planning for the future of rural communities, informed by rural people”.


The march began on Tuesday at 7pm, led by dairy farmers and the group president, John Keane, who said: “Our message is clear, we want a future in rural Ireland, we want our rural communities to survive and thrive into the future”.

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At a rest stop in the Irish Farm Centre in Bluebell, Dublin, young farmer Shane Dolphin (23) from east-Galway said: “I want to see a future not only for myself but for my friends around me, whether they’re farming or not. We should be able to get planning on the land we own and work in the community we grew up in”.

A number of rural TDs greeted the protesters outside Government buildings on Wednesday afternoon, including Fianna Fail’s Cork South West TD Christopher O’Sullivan.

“There are too many barriers to young people getting planning permission in rural areas. We need to make it easier especially in a housing crisis,” O’Sullivan said.

Speaking to The Irish Times, O’Sullivan said it was “the same familiar faces you see all the time when rural issues come up in the Dail”.

“Is there a case to be made for more representation based on geographical area rather than population? I think there’s certainly a case to be made there,” he said.

“The more variety in the Dail the better. It’s not a party I’d be joining myself, but there was a phenomenal result for the farmers party in the Netherlands. Potentially, it’s a backlash to efforts to be more sustainable and greener measures”.

“It’s a message to us really that while we all need to strive for sustainability we have to do it in a way that brings people with us, especially young people,” O’Sullivan said.

Macra hand-delivered their letters outlining the main issues faced by rural communities, along with suggested potential solutions, to the offices of the Taoiseach and the Tanaiste.

“We are taking steps for our future, to ensure young people and families can live and prosper in rural Ireland, as the youth are the backbone of these communities,” Macra president elect Elaine Houlihan said.

Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

I have a degree now in Ag Science from UCD and I’m part-time farming at home. I want to farm full-time all going well, but I want to see a future not only for myself but for my friends around me, whether they’re farming or not.

We should be able to get planning permission on the land we own and live and work in a community they grew up in. If we can’t build on our own land, it adds to supply issues.

The fact that only 6 per cent of farmers in Ireland are under age of 35 creates a lot of challenges going forward for us into the future.

If we’re serious about reaching climate targets, it’s young farmers who’ll get us there, because we’re much more adaptable to new technologies around breeding, grassland management and soil fertility. Young farmers are the greenest of the green. If we really want to lead that change, it’s young people that’ll drive it.

The Green Party might get a bit of an awakening at the next election and I’d ask the Green minister to listen to us and our solutions. But it’s a three party coalition and it’s as much on the onus of every party to get this right.

—  Shane Dolphin (23) from East Galway
Farmers rest in Bluebell on their way to Government buildings. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

“I’m a dairy farmer and we’re trying to be as progressive as we can in terms of the environment but it’s going to take time, and there’s research coming out all the time.

We often get this thing of “it’s not our issue to feed the world” but I think that’s a cop out. We can provide for rural Ireland and can feed people abroad as well. I think where there’s world hunger, we have to start providing for that and we have the capability in Ireland.

In Ireland, we’ve a short memory, the famine wasn’t that long ago and famines around the world are still happening.

That’s just on the agriculture side, on the rural side I’ve a lot of friends who’ve emigrated because they can have a better life somewhere else. So we’re here to highlight that as well.”

—  Jonathan Dwyer (29) from Co Laois
The group passes Christchurch Cathedral in central Dublin. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

“In Macra, we’re not just for farmers, we’re for everyone living in rural Ireland.

The main issue is rural people need to be brought to the table for rural problems. We’re the ones seeing these problems every day so having someone from the city centre trying to create solutions just isn’t going to work for us.

The main four issues we’re facing are housing, healthcare, transport and lack of involvement with those in rural Ireland.

There’s a lot more people in Government than just the Green Party so it’s not just one political party not listening to us, it’s them all.”

—  Niamh Farrell (26), chair of Macra’s rural youth subcommittee
Jade Wilson

Jade Wilson

Jade Wilson is a reporter for The Irish Times