Isolation and suicide 'serious problems' in farming


WOMEN AND AGRICULTURE CONFERENCE:THERE IS a “serious problem” in relation to isolation and suicide among Irish farmers, the third annual Women and Agriculture Conference in Kilkenny heard yesterday.

The important role of women in farming life in keeping families healthy, in the health of family relationships and in the health of the farm business, was also highlighted at the event attended by more than 700 women. More than 100 had to be turned away from the conference organised by the Irish Farmers Journalin association with the National Dairy Council.

Dr Maureen Gaffney, adjunct professor of psychology and society at University College Dublin, told the women a positive and happy attitude to life could increase the life span by up to 10 years. She urged them to ramp up their happiness and positivity in their lives be it in their personal lives, their marriages, in business or even if they were recovering from a bout of depression.

Margaret Healy, chairwoman of the Irish Farmers Association’s farm family and social affairs committee, who spearheaded the campaign for pensions for farm women, said there were serious problems with suicide in the farming community in rural Ireland. “We have the same problems as they have all over Europe. Isolation is a very big one as is the pace of change and the bureaucracy attached to farming now. Form filling causes a lot of anxiety,” she said.

There was a growing demand on helplines set up across the country to help farmers and rural people and there had been a huge rise, she said, in calls to the suicide helpline set up specifically for farmers in Cork and Kerry with the southern health services.

“I was speaking with a group of French farming people at the weekend and said they are losing one farmer a day there to suicide. We are not as bad as that but we have serious problems, especially in relation to isolation,” she said.

Farm women were warned by Declan McEvoy, a senior tax planning consultant, with IFAC Accountants, farmers should consider transferring their land before the next budget if Government decided to merge agriculture and taxation policy.

This could mean, he said, families facing a bill of €226,000 on a farm worth €3 million because the reliefs that apply to farming, such as the family home being classed as an agricultural rather than a business asset, could change.

He said the Civil Partnership/ Cohabitation Act provisions were not yet in place and amendments would have to be made in the Finance Bill which would impact on farmers and their families. He said the act will have an impact on property rights, on future transfers and there was a need to be aware of family circumstances.

Dr Patrick Wall, professor of public health at UCD, told the women they should look after their most valuable asset, themselves and their families, because they were in the health business more than any other business.

“It is only when serious illness strikes yourself or one of the family, will you realise some of the things you though were so important are now irrelevant,” he said.

“A fair proportion of the illness we experience in Ireland is diet and lifestyle related and is preventable. Safe, wholesome food is fundamental to human health,” he told the delegates. He said females in Ireland made a lot of the decisions regarding food and were more focused on health than males but we had a winning formula in Ireland because here many Irish farms were a team operation involving husband and wife and cross generational with children and even grandchildren.