Sherlock: ‘I hope to be an advocate for farm families’

Newly appointed Labour Party spokesperson for agriculture, Sean Sherlock, has set his sights on being an “advocate for farm families” – and ensuring that changes are made “in partnership” with farm families.

The Cork TD – who is returning to the agricultural brief for a second stint, having previously been Labour agriculture spokesperson from 2007 to 2011 – also highlighted the key issue facing farming over the coming years.

Speaking to AgriLand, deputy Sherlock said: “I’m from the constituency of Cork East; obviously it’s a strong rural farming constituency so I think it’s probably an appropriate role for someone like me.

I’m not from a farming background but it is my second time being spokesperson and I’d be very much attuned to the challenges facing farmers at present. I think one of those is climate change – and how this new government is going to negotiate those challenges while not affecting farm family incomes adversely.

“I think it will be important to mark the incoming government to make sure that we maintain that what I call smart specialisation, especially in the dairy sector, where our exports are key. We don’t want to diminish that in any way.”

The TD noted that the question revolves around where the “pot of money coming from Brussels” will be divested, adding that there is also much in the programme for government around climate measures.

However, he stressed:

That has to be done in partnership with farm families – it can’t be foisted upon farm families. They have to be agents for whatever changes are coming down the line.

“If we are talking about sequestration of carbon, then obviously farmers are going to be key drivers in that story.

“But it has to be done in a way that doesn’t impose any financial burdens, and quite the opposite – there should be a financial incentive behind that, and resources should be divested accordingly.”

Noting the importance of taking the time to listen to farmer views, he said:

I’ve already begun the process of reaching out to individual farmers – because there is no better way to get an assessment of what’s going on than when you put on the wellies and go inside somebody’s farmgate and listen to what farmers are saying themselves.

“We have to ensure that there are no further reductions in farm incomes and monies have to be divested to my mind in a way that incentivises farmers to take up the challenges of climate action, and do so in partnership.

“I’ve also the social protection brief, which cuts across agriculture to my mind as well, so I’ll spend the next few months listening to what farmers have to say.

“I hope to be an advocate for farm families – that’s how I see my role,” deputy Sherlock concluded.