A ‘beyond outstanding’ lifelong contribution to the Irish cooperative movement, by Robert Carey (Inishowen Co-operative), has been recognised nationally with the cooperative industry’s highest national honour – the Plunkett Award for Cooperative Endeavour.

The award is named after Sir Horace Plunkett, founder of the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society (ICOS).

The award was presented by Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine, Charlie McConalogue.

Robert Carey, from Moville, Co. Donegal, received the honour in a socially distanced ceremony, marking a lifetime’s contribution to the cooperative movement and to his local Inishowen Co-operative.

Cooperative Livestock Mart

In 1958 Carey and other visionary leaders set-up the Inishowen Co-operative Livestock Mart.  

Minister McConalogue said: “I congratulate Robert Carey on being awarded the 32nd Plunkett Award for Cooperative Endeavour.

“Robert is a giant of the cooperative movement and has been a giant of the Inishowen Co-op movement for decades. He is a truly worthy recipient of the Plunkett Award.

“Having visited the co-op in Inishowen since I was a child, I know the legacy Robert has created and the fantastic business that is now operating as a result of Robert’s vision and foresight,” the minister added.

“The cooperative movement has served our agriculture and rural communities so well over the past 127 years. They have stood the test of time and, I believe, that co-ops are a real selling point for our sector in terms of our international marketing of quality Irish foods.”

Chairman of the co-op

Robert Carey held the position of chairman on two occasions, serving as a board member for 46 years and volunteer, shareholder and long standing customer of the cooperative since 1958.

Despite his retirement from the board of directors in 2004, he has continued to play an important and supportive role as a trusted adviser within the cooperative structure, and as one of the few surviving founding members.

ICOS president Jerry Long said: “Robert is a champion of cooperation, locally, regionally and nationally, where he has contributed with an unwavering commitment to the business of cooperative farming in Ireland for the mutual benefit and prosperity of rural communities.

“He is justifiably respected for his knowledge and integrity, and it is an honour for us to recognise him and his many years of hard work and dedication by presenting him with this prestigious national award.”

In his period as a leader within Inishowen Co-operative, Robert Carey oversaw substantial developments including the establishment of the Inishowen Co-operative Agricultural Society Ltd. (1963); the expansion of mart facilities (1967); the establishment of a feed mill through a joint-venture with Clonleigh Co-operative (1968); the establishment of a pig cooperative (1972); the amalgamation of the mart, stores and piggery co-ops (1975); the integration of the Moville Co-operative (1982); and the integration of the Buncrana Co-operative (1987). 

Farm organisation involvement

In addition to his role in the cooperative, he also served as Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) Co. Donegal chairman from 1984-1987.

He was appointed to the Western Development Commission (WDC) in 1994 and he served on the board of Inishowen Rural Development Co-operative, promoting farming development in Inishowen at every opportunity.

He also served as chairman of Inishowen Agricultural Show.  

He remains a staunch supporter and promoter of cooperative principles and continues to provide important grounding context for decision-making when needed.

ICOS CEO, T.J Flanagan said: “The tireless efforts made by people of the calibre of Robert Carey, for no personal gain, provide a testament to what is great in the cooperative movement.

“When Robert, along with others, founded the cooperative in Inishowen, that part of Donegal, along with the rest of the country, was very economically depressed, with widespread poverty and emigration.

“Despite enormous adversity, Robert, and people like him, persisted, brought the community together, raised funds, and built a community-based business that Inishowen and north Donegal can be very proud of.

“Robert’s work can be an example to succeeding generations, who now need to take up the mantle to continue to support and to build Inishowen and other cooperatives, for the benefit of the community and the nation,” Flanagan concluded.