Opinion: Would a left-leaning government spell danger for farmers?

With Sinn Féin having amassed 37 seats in the next Dáil – just one behind Fianna Fáil and two ahead of Fine Gael – the prospect of an administration with a significant cohort of left-wing members looms large.

One might well ask if farming is to the fore of Sinn Féin’s concerns. There was a detailed section on agriculture in the party’s pre-election manifesto but, with the notable exception of one or two candidates, farming woes scarcely get a mention when the wider Sinn Féin body-politic takes to the air-waves.

Of course, this is an observation that could be leveled at almost any political party in the modern era – an age when farming has lost its ‘gravitas’ and scarcely surfaces in any national debate (unless it’s to act as a mud-flap for a tirade from a climate activist…or as an object of disdain for a militant vegan).

What was especially telling was that during the in-depth (weekend-long) coverage of the election, when poll results were broadcast ranking the multitude of issues that swayed voters, the plight of agriculture didn’t feature; nor were topics dedicated exclusively to farming visible on the list.

From here…to where?

So; where to from here? Most established farmers will view the prospect of a ‘coalition of the left’ – which seems unlikely, given the stark Dáil arithmetic (on a seat-by-seat basis) and the disparate views therein – with caution.

The prospect of a Green Party presence in Government – thanks to its sizeable new tally of 12 TDs – will also sound alarm bells for many. The party promises to reform CAP (at least from an Irish perspective), with monies being directed towards eco-friendly measures. It also says that, by 2040, agriculture should be carbon-neutral.

The sense one gets is that the party would certainly reward farmers for good (environmental) deeds, but that such rewards wouldn’t even come close to compensating for the reduced incomes that might result from dramatically-changed farming practices.

In fact, one suspects that entrenched ‘greens’ and die-hard socialists would readily abandon the current model of intensive agriculture – a business model that many farmers have striven towards – in pursuit of a higher purpose, whatever that lofty goal might be.

It’s not just the much-maligned beef sector that’s vulnerable nowadays; Hollywood actor Joaquin Phoenix’s anti-dairy rant at this week’s Oscars might in itself seem trivial, but it shows that sentiments which vilify ‘traditional’ farming methods are becoming increasingly mainstream.

What do farmers need?

In the face of such consumer challenges, and the lingering possibility of serious regulatory problems accruing from Brexit, farmers need a Government that ‘gets’ agriculture…and the role it still plays in underpinning vast swaths of rural Ireland.

Some farmers will take heart from the largely-successful escapades of the independent rural TDs – in returning to the Dáil in healthy numbers. But just how they can impact the make-up of any future administration remains to be seen.

Watch this space…