The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) election hustings in Carrick-on-Shannon, Co. Leitrim, on Wednesday, October 18, was dominated by discussions about the prevalence of forestry in the county and accusations that the IFA has become “soft” on the climate debate. The event began with speeches from vice presidential candidates Alice Doyle and Pat Murphy, followed by questions from IFA members in the audience. Presidential candidates Martin Stapleton and Francie Gorman then gave their speeches and responded to comments from the floor.
Many farmers expressed their dissatisfaction with the IFA, claiming that the organization has not done enough to defend farming and the production of food in the climate change argument. They felt that farmers were being vilified in public discourse and that the IFA, which was once a strong lobbying force, now holds no sway with the government. One member criticized the government for having an “anti-farming and anti-livestock agenda” and questioned the IFA’s communication strategy in terms of defending farmers and changing public perception of the sector. There was also strong criticism of the high salaries of some of the association’s top executives.
Presidential candidate Martin Stapleton addressed the issue of salaries, stating that the IFA had to meet its contractual obligations. He explained that the decision to not include the salary remuneration on the National Council meeting agenda was to prevent leaks to the press. Stapleton emphasized that the increase in salaries was in accordance with the contract and that the IFA was simply honoring its obligations.
Forestry planting in counties like Leitrim was a major topic of discussion at the hustings. One audience member claimed that the entire county had been covered in forestry, while others questioned the connection between companies like AXA and FBD and investment funds like Gresham House, which have shown interest in acquiring agricultural land for forestry. The candidates stated that they were not aware of any such association and acknowledged that Leitrim and the north-west region had been disproportionately affected by forestry.
Presidential candidate Francie Gorman expressed his opposition to the wholesale investment of a county for forestry and stated that he did not want to see any county completely planted out. He called for measures to prevent further extensive forestry planting.
The IFA election hustings will continue in various locations across the country over the coming weeks, with the national vote count scheduled for December.