Talk of a new farmers’ alliance party has been circulating for months, and it gained fresh momentum this week as the Government came under pressure over changes to the EU nitrates derogation. At the National Ploughing Championships on Wednesday afternoon, farmers spoke with enthusiasm of the prospect of such an alliance in advance of upcoming elections – but some had reservations over whether a new party could deliver for rural dwellers eager for change.
Padraig McGovern, a small drystock farmer from Drumshanbo, Co Leitrim, said he would vote for a farmers’ alliance party, “no doubt”.
“It’s come to this because the main parties aren’t looking after farmers, especially small farmers. I would have voted for Fianna Fáil all my life… never again,” he said.
“For me, as a small farmer, there’s no money... I do it for the love of it. We’re just breaking even.”
Mr McGovern’s wife, Tara, was previously a Fine Gael voter. “It’s a choice we’ve made… we never stop working, and it’s only to keep our head above water,” she said. Mr McGovern also works as a dental technician, he said, while his wife works in social care.
Charlie Duffy (20), a tillage and cattle farmer from Navan, Co Meath, was also unequivocal in his support for a rural party.
“For my generation, it’s getting harder and harder,” he said.
“The environment has to be helped but it’s getting impossible, like. They need lads that actually work on farms to have their perspective, because a lad sitting above in Dublin doesn’t know what a man in Cavan is at.
“Everything is going up and up and up [in cost], it’s just getting to be a disgrace,” he added.
Pat Egan (34), a drystock farmer from Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo, was unsure of whether he would vote for a rural issues party – but noted that there was an appetite for such a party. “There probably is a bit of a want there for it, really.
“Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil were probably always the farmers’ parties, but [since] they’ve gone in with the Greens, a lot of the policies are really affecting farmers. There’s disillusionment with some of the policies that have been brought in.
“Farmers’ incomes aren’t really increasing... the drystock sector really needs a lot of help, and they’re not doing much for us,” he added.
Dolores Bruun (74), with a background in sheep farming and living in Kilbeggan, Co Westmeath, said it was a good idea for farmers to unite on the most pressing issues facing the sector.
“With Fine Gael, you go back, you have the history... it’s the same way with Fianna Fáil. But if you start an alliance where farming is number one…
“The threat to farming today from outside forces – if they just speak with one voice, then they will be united, and they won’t have the baggage and the history of any other party,” she said.
Dingle native Elaine Dold (32), whose stepfather runs a small farm in Co Kerry, said there wasn’t a need for such a party.
“I feel that in the last couple of years there’s been a lot of grants made available, and that the voice of the farmer is really coming through – you can see it in the media, and as a result then, you can see that they’re finally getting the representation that they deserve,” she said.
Brian McCormack, a retired cattle and sheep farmer from Collinstown, Co Westmeath, said that he would support a farmers’ alliance – but worried that such a party running for election could jeopardise change within the government.
“It could encroach on Sinn Féin [vote] and let and others in, let Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Greens in.
“They’d probably be competing for a lot of the same vote, unfortunately,” he said.
Mr McCormack said he would be voting for change in the next election, criticising the current Government.
Niamh Foley, a tillage farmer from Tralee, Co Kerry, said that farmers should vote as a “collaborative group”.
“You have to be careful we don’t split into to many different organisations because they’ll [the current group of political parties] be all back in again.”