Election fever: ‘Let the best man win’

As the clock ticks down to the election of the next president of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) in Portlaoise tonight; AgriLand asks the head-to-head contenders – current president Patrick Kent and rural development chairman Seamus Sherlock – what makes them the man for the job?

After four years holding the reins of the association, with an estimated 10,000 members, Kent has built up a wealth of experience, networking and knowledge across a local, national and international scale.

He has spearheaded the organisation’s campaigns on the impact of Brexit on Irish agriculture, the threat of the Mercosur trade deal and has lobbied the European Union on multiple legislation and regulations affecting those inside the farm gate.

However, he feels the battle is only just beginning.

“We can do a lot more in the next two years and I want to lead it. We have a lot of issues coming down the tracks: Mercosur; climate change; CAP reform; and our suckler farmers are under pressure – all these issues are going to affect farmers and fellas need to get recognition.

“Dairy farming is booming at present and other sectors need to be brought up to that level and supported.

Energised

“I’m absolutely energised. I believe we have doors open and we need to keep on the track we are on; but we must push harder and achieve even more. We have been making great strides and we want to keep the momentum up.

“People are responding very, very positively to me. Despite the fact that farmers are under pressure we are getting a very positive response as an organisation. We are very active on issues like the fodder crisis and farmers like that.”

When asked why do you feel you are the man for the job? He said:

I have the ability and the experience, simple as that. I believe in the last four years particularly I have been making great strides, despite the fact that we have had a few hiccups.

“We want to drive our organisation forward, increase our membership even further; so I think it will be a positive for the organisation if I get re-elected. It’s an endorsement of the work we’ve done.

I don’t feel nerves, I just think there is a job of work to be done and if I get the endorsement of the organisation to drive on that is exactly what I will do. It’s as simple as that.

Meanwhile, competitor Seamus Sherlock – the current rural development chairman of the ICSA – believes his deep connection with grassroots gives him a greater understanding of farmers on the ground.

Over the last two years Sherlock, a west Limerick drystock farmer, has relentlessly lobbied on issues such as: rural crime; rural isolation; mental health issues in agriculture; pressures in the drystock sector; and the ageing farming population in Ireland.

‘One of their own’

He believes his broad understanding of these daily struggles in rural Ireland – where he says he is seen by farmers as “one of their own” – sets him apart.

“The campaign has been very positive; I’m getting fantastic feedback from farmers on the ground. I would have been putting out statements all along as rural development chairman, and a lot of farmers have been ringing to say they believe ‘I have my finger on the pulse’.

“The issues I’m raising are issues affecting most drystock farmers on a daily basis.

“To be honest, it’s going on a few weeks and I’m looking forward to it coming to an end tonight. I’m quietly confident, but I’m not overly optimistic. I know I’ve done the best I could do and it’s up to the electorate now.

When asked why he thinks he is the best man for the job? He said:

I believe I live in the real world; I’m living in the world of most struggling drystock farmers and I suppose that I understand and relate to their issues.

“Over the last two years I’ve been going around to meetings and I’ve been listening to lads talking about how they are really struggling.

“There are a lot of mental health problems out there in agriculture and I think since I started to raise those issues a lot more members have come to me and said ‘at least there is someone who understands where I am coming from’.

“That would be one of the issues why I think I’d be a good man for the job. I’m looking forward to it now and let the best man win; but the big winner will be the ICSA,” he said.

The ICSA presidential election will take place at the Midlands Park Hotel in Portlaoise, Co. Laois, tonight. Proceedings are expected to begin at 8:00pm.

The winner will be picked from more than 100 votes from ICSA delegates in every county. The outcome will decide who will lead the association for the next two years.

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