Main parties have failed farmers but IFA must stay out of politics, says new president

Any move to support a new party to better represent the sector’s interests might quickly lead to the organisation’s demise, says Francie Gorman

The main political parties have failed farmers and lost their confidence, the incoming president of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) has said, but he would not support the establishment of a new party to better represent the sector’s interests in the political sphere.

A poll conducted by the Irish Farmers Journal last year found significant support for the idea of a new party among farmers, but after addressing delegates at the IFA’s AGM in Dublin on Tuesday, Francie Gorman suggested any move by the association to support such a movement might quickly lead to the organisation’s demise.

Mr Gorman said any such move would be divisive and could undermine an organisation that had “represented all farmers in a good way, an apolitical way, for 70 years”.

“If we got into the political space ... somebody asked about our headquarters being in Dublin ... well, it would be gone in five years because we wouldn’t have an association,” he said.


He said Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael had “taken the support of farmers for granted and I don’t think they can do that in the next election”. He said the IFA would have no concerns about working with Sinn Féin if the party ended up in government after the next election and would deal with all political parties in order to deliver for its roughly 72,000 members.

“We’d be happy to work with them [Sinn Féin] absolutely. I know Brian Stanley, who is a representative in my own constituency and he has a great understanding of farming matters. But irrespective of who is elected to the next government we will sit down and work with them,” Mr Gorman said.

He was deeply critical of the current Government’s treatment of farmers, particularly when it came to a failure to provide recent payments on schedule, changing European Union rules on the use of nitrates and the level of incentives provided with regard to climate protection policies.

Meanwhile, Mr Gorman said a failure to bring real transparency to the figures around the current round of food price cuts by supermarkets would critically undermine the credibility of the new agri-food regulator.

He understood that many consumers would be happy to see prices come down after a period of high inflation, but said farmers had experienced significant cost increases and needed to be paid properly for the food they produce.

He called on the supermarkets themselves to back up claims that farmers would not ultimately find themselves paying for the promotions through lower prices by publishing all of the figures involved. If they did not, he said, Agri-Food Regulator chief executive Niamh Lenehan would have to act.

“If she’s going to have any credibility she has to be able to put them figures out there and show us where the margin in the supply chain is because it’s not at the bottom part where we are ... no question,” he said.

Asked about the future of the IFA’s Farm Centre headquarters on the Naas Road in Dublin, Mr Gorman, who was elected to succeed Tim Cullinan last year, said he supported a continued presence for the organisation in Dublin but suggested the precise scale and nature of this could change.

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Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times