Key priorities and challenges outlined by new IFA chairmen

Incoming dairy, sheep and hill committee chairmen for the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA), Tom PhelanSean Dennehy and Flor McCarthy respectively, have outlined their key priorities that they intend focusing on during their terms.


Laois dairy and beef farmer Tom Phelan was elected chairman of the IFA National Dairy Committee, succeeding Sean O’Leary at the end of his term on Tuesday (January 9).

Outlining his key priorities, Phelan said: “I am conscious that I am starting my term as chair of the National Dairy Committee after a strong year for dairy trade and milk prices, and with more challenging market conditions ahead.”

Expanding on his priorities as chairman, Phelan said: “Optimising milk prices will remain my top priority. Nothing has a bigger impact on dairy farmers’ incomes.

“Volatility is continuing to challenge dairy farmers’ incomes. We need to develop more income risk management tools.”

Other priorities listed by the new chairman include:
  • Defending the farm family model, “as it is intrinsic to the Irish farming industry”;
  • Farmers’ abilities to attract and retain labour onto dairy farms;
  • Ensuring that future industry planning is based on delivering sustainable returns for farmers, rather than being purely supply driven;
  • While recognising that sustainability is a very important issue for the entire industry, farmers must see a return for their effort.

Phelan farms with his wife Caroline and children Karen, Marie-Therese and Martin in Pike of Rushall, near Mountrath in Co. Laois, and supplies creamery milk to Glanbia.

Phelan has a strong track record of farmer representation, according to the IFA. He has chaired his local Glanbia area and regional committees; he was also Macra na Feirme Laois county chairman and has had significant experience within IFA, serving on the Dairy and Farm Business Committees and as county chairman for Laois.

He has also represented the National Dairy Committee on the IFA Animal Health Project Team.


Meanwhile Sean Dennehy from Co. Cork was elected as the New IFA National Sheep Committee chairman. Dennehy replaces John Lynskey from Co. Mayo.

IFA elections
Incoming chairman of the IFA Sheep Committee Sean Dennehy with outgoing chair John Lynskey. Image source: IFA Twitter page

Dennehy set out his key priorities for the sheep sector and Ireland’s 34,000 sheep farmers over the next number of years.

These priorities included:
  • Strong viable lamb prices that give sheep farmers a profitable return well over the costs of production;
  • Ensuring that the sheep sector is fully protected in the Brexit negotiations;
  • Increasing sheep farm incomes and securing a better deal and improved targeted direct payments for sheep farmers in CAP;
  • Securing a worthwhile environmental payment for sheep farmers, reflecting the strong environmental credentials of the sheep sector; and
  • Representing both lowland and hill sheep farmers on all issues at national and European level.

Dennehy is a lowland sheep farmer with 300 ewes and he also contract rears replacement dairy stock. In addition, he also manages a neighbouring sheep and cattle farm.

The Cork man was elected to the National Sheep Committee in 2013 and was national vice chairman until his election. Dennehy is also a member of the Sheep Management Committee.

Hill Farmers

The IFA National Hill Committee has elected Kerry man Flor McCarthy as chairman, replacing Pat Dunne from Wicklow, who represented hill farmers for the last four years.

McCarthy – who was a candidate in the 2016 IFA presidential election – is a hill sheep farmer from Kenmare. He also has suckler herd and farms with his wife Mary and four children.

Outgoing Hill Committee chair Pat Dunne, receiving a presentation from new chairman Flor McCarthy. Image source: IFA Twitter page

Commenting on his election as chair, Flor McCarthy said that he will represent the 30,000 hill farmers highlighting their concerns and tackling low farm incomes, which are prevalent on farms with mountain type land.

The additional €25 million for Areas of Natural Constraint (ANCs) secured in Budget 2018 is a key focus of McCarthy’s, and the new chairman intends to ensure that the funding is directed to farmers who farm the most difficult land. Another priority is ensuring that in the ANC review – due to be put in place in 2019 – hill type land secures the highest payment.

McCarthy has set out a number of other key priorities:
  • Ensuring the IFA National Hill Committee will play a “crucial role” in the formulation of national policy to deliver significant support to hill farmers in CAP negotiations;
  • Ensuring the 2016 Heritage Bill to allow burning of gorse in the month of March is passed by the Oireachtas;
  • That the additional €2m promised for the Walks Scheme is delivered with the addition of 40 recreational routes;
  • Farmers with designated land must be properly compensated for farming and development restrictions imposed;
  • That better environmental schemes are put in place to recognise the key role hill farmers play in providing a vital public good;
  • Working closely with the National Sheep Committee to deliver a better return for light lamb.

In looking forward to his new position, McCarthy acknowledged the work of Pat Dunne over the last four years.