Plenty of questions were fielded by candidates at the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) presidential and deputy presidential hustings in the Mullingar Park Hotel, Mullingar, Co. Westmeath, tonight, Thursday, November 7.
Approximately 150 farmers attended tonight’s hustings, with a number of key questions levelled at the three candidates contesting the presidential elections, namely: John Coughlan; Tim Cullinan; and Angus Woods.
A mix of previously highlighted concerns and fresh issues were put to candidates on the night.
- Recent beef protests;
- Beef imports into the country;
- Transparency and restructuring;
- Funding of the organisation and the need for a new economist;
- Rising costs of inputs;
- The dairy calf issue;
- Farm safety;
- “What the consumer wants”;
- IFA staff salaries and lack of engagement;
- Farmer representation and “splinter groups”.
In terms of the recent beef protests and the subsequent backlog of cattle to be killed, Woods said that the impact of the blockades is “not surprising”, adding that at the time the EU beef price was “in turmoil”; he noted that it was decided that protesting was “the wrong thing to do at the wrong time for the majority of our membership”, particularly with Brexit still on course for November 1.
“It’s going to take a significant period of time to clear that backlog,” he added.
Coughlan said that the key question is “how do we move forward from where we are?” He stressed that the Beef Market Taskforce needs to be held – and fast.
“If we are not around the table we’re going to be in the very same situation; it doesn’t matter if it’s two months’ time, six months’ time or 12 months’ time.”
He added: “I think Bord Bia should be in Europe big time, pushing new markets and better sales, because Europe is our best market and the European market is decreasing.
Consumption is decreasing and there is nothing being done to maintain that European market.
Cullinan said that, in the pig sector, protesting was a useful tool previously, adding that the protests were held from “pure desperation”.
“We need to look at what’s happening in the marketplace at the minute; in China there are 25 million tonnes of pigmeat that has had to be destroyed. There is one million tonnes of pigmeat gone into China this year already.”
Both Woods and Coughlan agreed that, as a predominantly exporting nation, Irish farmers would have to be careful about calls for restricting free trade – including beef imports.
Woods added that beef coming in was largely UK in origin or from elsewhere in Europe, meaning it would be very difficult to stop anyway, but whoever is bringing in the foreign meat, given the way the beef sector is at the moment “is really doing a disservice to Irish farmers”.
Coughlan said that industry respect for farmers has to be restored and that it is important that beef imports be monitored closely – and “that’s the key here – to ensure what’s coming in as European beef is going back out as what it came in as – not as anything else”.
On the imported meat, Cullinan took a very different approach, saying:
What we should be doing here…we should be above throwing it into the sea in Dublin.
“The factory feedlots didn’t buy one bullock over the last three months. I’ve heard they are back buying in the marts this week. Why are they buying them? Because they’ve got the price down again.”
The hustings concluded at approximately 11:30pm. Stay tuned to AgriLand for further updates on tonight’s event.