Macra head criticises IFA on `hard times' approach


Most people do not know that the Irish Farmers' Association is the child of Macra na Feirme, the youth organisation for Ireland's young farming folk.

It was from the Macra clubs which grew up all over Ireland in the 1940s and 50s that the National Farmers' Association was born and later developed into the Irish Farmers' Association.

It was interesting then that in Bantry at the weekend where Macra was holding its annual congress, the president of Macra, Mr Tommy McGuire, should in a sense, lecture the child on its behaviour.

The young Ulsterman made it clear that he believed the farm organisations had done a disservice to farming by concentrating on the "hard times" approach.

They appeared, he said, to be trying to out-do one another in criticising and highlighting in the media, the problems which farmers were experiencing.

He called for what he termed, a more measured approach and a greater degree of strategic co-operation between the various farm organisations.

Mr McGuire, who is not directly involved in farming himself, has identified the main problem the farmers face, the lack of sympathy for them in urban Ireland. This had manifested itself in the poor response from the Government to the difficulties and it had become apparent that rural Ireland no longer held the political influence it once did.

"If we are to get the assistance we need from policy makers, we have to convince non-farming communities that agriculture and rural Ireland is worth supporting," he told delegates.

Mr McGuire's realistic assessment of the situation was indeed historic and without precedent but they were made against a growing crisis in the industry.

Some of his own diminishing membership will not farm because the rewards that are necessary for a decent standard of living are not to be had on the smaller farms.

Among the delegates was a young Tipperary man, Mr Phelim O'Dea, from Loughmore, Temple more, Co Tipperary, who would dearly like to take over the family farm. "There are 75 acres at home and we milk 35 cows but there is not a living there for me. I used to work on other people's farms but I got tired doing that," he said.

"I am now living and working in Dublin in the construction industry where I get a good living and I am not working all the hours God sends."

He said he found it difficult to envisage going back to full-time farming because the income from the family home would not measure up to his current earnings.

Another, Martin Fitzpatrick (23), from Kilbrittan, Co Cork, said he had always envisaged taking over the family farm but he now had a job as a farm adviser with AIB and the farm could not compete with it. The weekend brought a mixture of good and bad news for the next generation of farmers. The Minister for Agriculture, Mr Walsh, who officially opened the weekend announced some of the details of the Farm Installation Aid scheme to help young farmers set up in business.

He said the £5,600 in aid would apply retrospectively to farmers who had set up as full-time farmers, on or after January 1st, 1995, when the last scheme ran out of money.

The bad news was delivered by Mr Michael Dowling, the former secretary of the Department of Agriculture who warned that the milk quota system, was under severe threat beyond 2000.

Continuation of the system beyond then required a qualified majority of the Council of Farm Ministers and at present, that majority did not exist.

More than 2,000 young Macra members took part in the events over the weekend.