Meet the ICSA presidential front-runners

With the presidential elections for the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) set to be held this Thursday, June 27, AgriLand got the views of the three candidates who are hoping to take over following the resignation of Patrick Kent.

Kent resigned in April to take up a position as an agriculture advisor for newly elected MEP – then candidate – Mick Wallace.

Since then, presidential duties have been undertaken by the regional vice presidents and commodity chairs. But after Thursday, the associations will again have a full-time president.

Let’s meet the contenders.

Edmond Phelan

Edmond Phelan (pictured below), from Co. Waterford, is the former chairperson of the ICSA’s Beef Committee.

Commenting on the Government’s recently announced Climate Action Plan, Phelan said: “The climate issue isn’t something we can ignore, but agriculture gets a bad rap. Agriculture is not the real problem. I see it as part of the solution.

“We need to look at it logically. If you go into a city and see emissions spewing out of car exhausts, and you think cows are the problem, you’d really be wanting to think again,” he argued.

According to beef farmer Phelan, growing energy crops should be looked at as a way forward, arguing: “I wouldn’t care where my crops are going, as long as some one pays me for them.

The €100 million is badly needed. It’s a pity it has come to this. Farmers would much prefer to get a good price for their produce.

On the EU beef fund, Phelan welcomed it, but stressed that “it won’t go next or near what we would need if Brexit happens”.

He added that “this cannot be used to reduce suckler cows on the quiet”.

Phelan rose the possibility that the conditionality attached to the fund was an attempt to cut down on Irish beef to free up the European market for South American beef, in the event of a potential trade deal with the South American trading block Mercosur.

It is laughable to get beef from Brazil, where they are cutting down trees, while planting trees in Longford.

He highlighted the discrepancy between the EU’s climate strategy and trading strategy, arguing: “You have to look at the real culprits.”

Phelan also commented on farmer incomes, and how this fails to match up with how much work they take on, saying: “If you told a teacher to take on 10 extra students for the same pay, there’d be a strike in the morning.

“We have to change to way we look at things,” he concluded.

Dermot Kelleher

Dermot Kelleher (pictured below), from Co. Cork, is a suckler farmer and the current regional vice-president for Munster.

Like Phelan, he argued that there was an overemphasis on agriculture on the climate front.

Cattle are being scapegoated. We’re an agricultural country. Big industrial countries are doing more damage. You have to stop and take a look at the globe.

He added that these “big industrial countries are not doing anything” in terms of the climate and their emissions.

“We’re one of the most climate friendly beef producing countries in the world. Taking out our beef, and then flying beef around the world from South America, where they’re cutting down the rainforest, isn’t doing a whole lot for climate change. It’s ridiculous,” Kelleher claimed.

In terms of the beef fund, he questioned how much of a benefit it would have, and argued that the focus should be on prices.

A 10%, or even 5%, increase in the price of cattle would do more for farmers than any €100 million. Farmers are working for nothing. The €100 million is a whole lot of jumping up and down over nothing.

Apart from these issues, Kelleher also argued that “more respect was needed for farmers”.

“Some people think they can walk all over our land and do what they want without talking to us. They need to realise that farmers own the land,” he said.

He also criticised the use of compulsory purchase orders (CPO’s) against farmers.

Hugh Farrell

Last up is Hugh Farrell, a suckler farmer from Co. Cavan, who is the current chairperson of the Animal Health and Welfare Committee.

In keeping with his fellow candidates, he said that there was “too much emphasis put on the beef sector” when it came to the environment.

“It could be driven into a position where it could be scapegoated for other industries, inside and outside agriculture,” he warned.

Cattle aren’t creating nearly as much emissions as other industries.

Commenting on the Climate Action Plan, Farrell argued: “This plan shouldn’t be there to cripple farmers.”

However, despite his misgivings, he said that the climate plan was something that “we all have to work with”.

He stressed though that there should be more of a focus on other economic sectors, such as the car industry in other countries.

Everything is built for a short life today. We have to look at the way industrialisation is going.

Regarding the beef fund, Farrell raised the question of why it has so many stipulations attached to it.

“Where are these conditions coming from? It’s an industry that has suffered through Brexit and adverse weather conditions, and this money was given as a benefit. Why are there so many tails hanging out of it?” he asked.

The range of conditions would “make it impossible for anybody to get any of it”, Farrell argued.

Farrell also represents the ICSA on the 2030 TB Stakeholders Forum, and as animal health chairperson, TB is a “continuous issue” for him.

“All fingers are being pointed at the farmer. We need to call on the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to look itself. The department needs to be stepping in faster when there is a breakdown,” he said.

“Cattle have to be moved in time. And the department shouldn’t wait around until the next test. They should be man enough to take the cases out of it,” Farrell added.

On Johne’s disease, Farrell said it was a bigger issue than people realise, and that it needed to be taken more seriously. He called on a strategy to be put in place to help farmers deal with it.

Thursday election

The ICSA presidential election, to be held on Thursday, June 27, will decide which of these candidates will lead the association through these issues and many others.

The elections will be held at the Midlands Park Hotel in Portlaoise, Co. Laois – the town where the ICSA has its headquarters.