The emergence of the Farmers Alliance (FA) has added another voice to the already crowded landscape of Irish farming organizations. According to FA spokespersons, the primary focus of the organization is to repair the image of farmers who struggle to make a living from the land. However, it is crucial to recognize that rural Ireland is not solely comprised of farmers. Many non-farming individuals live and work in the countryside, commute from rural areas to their jobs, or have chosen a rural lifestyle for their retirement. These individuals face a range of issues that impact their quality of life and their ability to participate fully in society. These issues include inadequate road infrastructure, lack of digital connectivity, limited access to social services, questionable local planning decisions that hinder rural development, and a minimal police presence.
On a daily basis, these rural residents witness the effects of industrial farming on the countryside. They observe farmers disregarding the principles of good neighborliness and using the rural space and road network as their personal factory floor, without considering the perspectives or well-being of those who share the rural environment. It is important to remember that the Irish farming community represents only a small fraction of the overall population. While they deserve to have their voices heard, they should not be immune to scrutiny.
If the FA is positioning itself as a victim, suggesting that farmers are being unfairly criticized for the failings of rural Ireland, this is not a promising start. By falling into the trap of an echo chamber, similar to other farming organizations, the FA is condemning those who question farming practices. In the long run, the FA may align itself with controversial issues such as live animal exports, hunting, commercial turf cutting, and unregulated rural house construction. These topics are currently being debated within Irish society as the country seeks to adopt a forward-thinking approach to its development, particularly in light of the climate emergency.
The Farmers Alliance has the potential to become a catalyst for change in the Irish countryside, akin to its namesake organization in the United States. However, in order to achieve this, the FA must ensure that it includes all rural residents in its vision for a modern and sustainable future. Failing to do so would be akin to losing the farmyard in a sporting context. It is essential for the FA to adopt a future-proof mindset when addressing rural issues, bringing all stakeholders on board to create a united front. Only then can the FA truly advocate for the interests of farmers and rural dwellers alike.
From John Tierney, Chairperson of Waterford Animal Concern.