IFA South Leinster election: Gorman throws down the gauntlet

The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) is set to hold an election for the role of IFA South Leinster regional chairman next month.

Two candidates are set to contest this election: Francie Gorman from Co. Laois; and James Kehoe from Co. Wexford. This article will focus on Co. Laois farmer Francie Gorman.

AgriLand conducted an in-depth interview with Gorman ahead of the election to get his views, priorities and what he will bring to the role.

No stranger by any means in IFA circles, Gorman – a full-time beef and sheep farmer, and member of Ballinakill IFA – is a former county chairman for Laois IFA, finishing up his term last February.

Priorities and objectives

Asked if he has short-term priorities, should he get elected, the Laois farmer said: “In conjunction with the other chairmen of the region and the other [county] executives, I would firstly look for their opinions on the various issues that are facing us at the minute.

The big ones are CAP [Common Agricultural Policy] reform, the environment, Britain deciding to exit the EU and current trade deals that are ongoing around the world.

“I would formulate views with them and bring them forward to the National Officers’ Committee and push those views for the farmers of south Leinster.”

Moving to longer-term objectives for what he would like to achieve, Gorman said: “I would certainly like to see us as an organisation be more proactive on CAP reform and I know there is a huge element of subsidiarity to the new CAP coming down the road.”

Francie Gorman with his wife Kay and son Tom

“The drip-drip of CAP money away from active farmers has to stop.

“Secondly, in terms of Britain’s decision to exit the EU, the amount of trade we do with them across all sectors is huge.

We cannot be allowed to carry the cost of Brexit as farmers. Because we’re in an area in south Leinster that is so productive, we would carry a disproportionate burden.

“There’s a huge amount of dry stock farmers, beef farmers in particular, that are going to be impacted disproportionately in the event of a hard Brexit.”

Prices and payments

Quizzed on this, and the element of beef and beef prices, Gorman contended that beef farmers have got to get a better price for their product:

“At the moment there’s a price differential of nearly 50c/kg between our price and Britain. I think in the last week, the differential was €190-200 per head so there is more to be got out of the marketplace.”

Asked what can be done, he said: “It’s about putting pressure on our government, who regulate the industry and give them their licence to operate and it’s about pressure on processors.

As you saw last December, it’s about pressure on retailers as well. That’s something I was pushing in a huge way, for the IFA to take action against retailers. These will help to deliver that.

The 5% reduction under the Beef Emergency Aid Measure (BEAM) was a point of frustration for the beef farmer, who said that this needs to be mitigated over a two-year period, to take into account the disruptions of 2020.

Turning to CAP reform – and the question of a reduced budget – the Laois man said: “The level of co-funding in Pillar II hasn’t been decided yet.

“It’s our job to identify and highlight that there is a problem there.

“Following on from lobbying in IFA, which I was central to, there was €200 million delivered to farmers. That in itself says that there is an acknowledgement of the problem.

Image source Agriland Laois IFA
The 2020 Laois IFA AGM on February 4. L-R: Paul Maher; Jim Holland; Francie Gorman; Tim Cullinan; Willie Dolan; and John Fitzpatrick

“The issue is that that support needs to be there on an ongoing basis.”

On other priority areas, Gorman highlighted the need for Irish grain to be recognised as a premium product for the feed and drinks industries. Meanwhile,  a €30/head Sheep Welfare Scheme was also underlined as a must.

A radical reform of the TB Eradication Scheme and the Fair Deal Scheme were additional issues noted.

“The cost of finance, energy, regulation all them issues have to be addressed if we’re to have a viable agricultural industry going forward.

Having sat on the farm business committee, the costs of doing business are a huge one for me.

Describing carbon taxes as “essentially a tax on rural Ireland”, he added: “The cost of money at 5.5% give or take for most people borrowing, is too great considering that the banks are getting it for nearly nothing.”

Bringing to the board

Asked as to what he feels he can bring to the role for the eight south Leinster counties, Gorman explained:

“I’ve been involved very actively in IFA for the best part of 20 years. I’ve a good grasp of the issues.

“The chairs know I put my heart and soul into the role for whatever length of time I’m in it and that I’ll work with them.

I’ll bring a hard edge to the board in representing south Leinster farmers and I hope that, on that basis, I can be elected – and people will be able to see what I can bring to the board on the key issues – CAP reform, Brexit, environment and trade deals.

The midlands farmer highlighted that, at the end of the day, each of these issues comes back to income.

“Income is first and foremost my priority for farmers.

“Increased income can be delivered in a number of ways – through supports, marketplace and the cost of doing business,” Gorman concluded.