FARMERS Journal poll results released on Wednesday indicating that farmers will overwhelmingly vote Fine Gael were broadly reflected at Offaly IFA’s ‘meet the candidates’ gathering in Tullamore that same night.
Apart from farmer Eddie Fitzpatrick, it was the Fine Gael candidates who gave the impression of being most informed on agricultural issues, with Independent candidate John Leahy giving a solid performance and Cllr Barry Cowen low on detail but high on emphasising the work Fianna Fáil had done for farmers in government.
While the performance of the night was from the extremely well-informed newcomer, Cllr Liam Quinn, the key moment was a showdown between sitting TD Charlie Flanagan and former county chairman Aidan Larkin, which ended with considerably more support for the politician than the local man.
“We do not want another ad-hoc committee set up on how to deal with regulation and the Competition Authority,” Mr Larkin told Fine Gael candidates, saying regulation is “a legal issue.”
“You’d best get real. We’ve had enough of the jibing that’s gone on [in the Dáil] and we haven’t got tuppence more,” he said.
Deputy Flanagan said Fine Gael won’t be introducing a new authority but will streamline a number of other bodies to save money and create efficiencies.
“I’m just surprised and a little disappointed that at the end of what was a very good meeting where there was no jibing or sniping that you refer to, that you asked us to get real.
“I’ve no difficulty getting real with agriculture,” he replied. “I represent an agricultural community here and I make no apologies for it,” he said, to rousing applause.
In three minute presentations, candidates supported current county chairman Joe Parlon who said farming is the backbone of the Irish economy.
In the question and answer session farmers wanted to know the candidates’ stance on CAP reform, attitude to carbon and property taxes, commitment to a variety of schemes and their intentions regarding maintenance of the Shannon.
On carbon taxes, Cllr Quinn’s suggestion of using Offaly’s cut-away bogland as a carbon sink to offset CO2 emissions from cattle was viewed as innovative and positive.
Cllr Leahy said he couldn’t support any scheme that would see the loss of 70,000 cattle in Offaly alone, and Cllr Fitzpatrick said loss of livestock would be detrimental to farming.
Green candidate Christopher Fettes said his party had tried to push “too much through too quickly” but insisted that climate change is “happening faster and faster.”
Farmers did not hold back in criticising the Green Party’s influence on legislation.
Ireland’s position in the EU was repeatedly referred to by the United Left Alliance/Socialist Party candidate Ray Fitzpatrick, who said that while making up just .8% of the EU, we would have “very little impact in getting what Ireland wants.”
There was little concrete from most of the speakers on the dominance of multiples, with Cllr Leahy suggesting farmers stand together and Ray Fitzpatrick pointing out the need for farmer-led co-operatives.
Cllr Cowen suggested an all-party committee to ensure income supports are guaranteed and Marcella Corcoran Kennedy said Fine Gael’s proposed Fair Trade Bill would deal with greedy multinationals.
Deputy Flanagan said it’s time “to speed up the development of a single brand for the agri-food sector” and develop regional branding.
The local issue at the meeting was flooding, with Cllr Fitzpatrick pointing out that of the Barrow Drainage Board’s €700,000 budget, only €200,000 is actually spent on work.
“The drainage boards should be abolished and the OPW should do the work,” he said and Ms Corcoran Kennedy outlined a series of initiatives to deal with the failure of the OPW to act so far.
Deputy Flanagan insisted that live exports “will not be jeopardised by a Fine Gael government” and Cllr Cowen said the credit crisis could be dealt with through “a separate agreement between yourselves and ourselves to get growth going.”
Independent candidate James Fanning said on the banks that “we need very firm, quick action, no more delays.”
Answering one farmer’s criticism that the Taoiseach didn’t answer invitations to speak to Offaly farmers but did appear in Donegal pre by-election, Cllr Cowen said he wasn’t aware that the executive were unhappy with their access to Brian Cowen.
“As far as I’m concerned there was always an open door and he always met with them. At no time was it relayed to me that you were disappointed, annoyed or didn’t get an audience with that man.”
James Kane, National Farm Business Chairman clarified that those interviews had been sought in the week the Taoiseach had been negotiating with the IMF.
Members were keen that they will continue to have access to whatever representatives are elected.
All candidates were invited but Labour and Sinn Féin were not represented and there was no appearance by independent candidates Rotimi Adebari, John Bracken, Michael Cox, Liam Dumpleton, John Foley or Fergus McDonnell.