The word ‘transparency’ is one that is used by the IFA on an almost daily basis. For the past number of months, the organisation has been calling for complete transparency when it comes to the way the meat plants interact with the supermarkets. And rightly so. Every beef farmer in Ireland knows the trading relationship between the factories and the retailers remains shrouded in total secrecy, which serves to fuel a deep distrust in the way producers view all of those organisations that are upstream of them in the food chain.
So imagine my shock last Friday afternoon upon reading a press release from the IFA telling me that the organisation is opposed to Brendan Howlin’s recently published Registration of Lobbying Bill. The reasons cited for this stance include: prohibitive cost and the unworkability/impractical nature of the proposed legislation.
What absolute rubbish. I am writing this piece, not as an Agriland journalist but as a former member of policy staff with the Ulster Farmers Union. For six years of my life I was constantly travelling around Belfast, Dublin, London and Brussels, striving get the best possible farm support deals for that organisation’s members. So I have an intimate knowledge of how the various farm lobbying organisations work.
What angered me most about last Friday’s statement from the IFA was the fact that no reference was made to the principle drivers behind Brendan Howlin’s new legislation. It strikes me that every lobbying organisation worth its salt would be more than happy to fully endorse the principle of ‘total transparency’ when it comes to the way they go about their business. And if they are not happy with such a proposed state of affairs then the question arises: what have they got to hide?
Surely issues such as cost and the perceived impractical nature of proposals now on the table are technical matters that can be thrashed out between the government and the various lobbying groups to all parties’ mutual satisfaction.
In truth, I believe it is fundamentally important for every farm lobby organisation – IFA, ICSA, ICMSA etc to come out clearly and confirm whether or not they support the principles enshrined in the new Registration of Lobbying Bill. And let’s also include ICOS, Meat Industry Ireland, the Irish Dairy Board, the National Dairy Council, Bord Bía plus the individual dairy co-ops, meat processors and all the other commercial agri-food players, who lobby government on a daily basis.
Every farmer in Ireland is paying to keep these organisations in existence. So it behoves these various groupings to let primary producers know how their levy monies etc are being used. The word ‘transparency’ comes to mind in this regard!