The lobbying register for 2020 has been published by the Standards in Public Office Commission, and farming organisations feature prominently.

Quite naturally, health was the issue most lobbied about last year. Agriculture was in third place, behind economic development. These were actually also the top three, in the same order, as in 2019, so the pandemic didn’t actually shift the order significantly.

The total number of registered lobbying bodies now has reached 1,909. More than half of these are located in Dublin. That’s not surprising either, many national organisations are based in the capital city.

So how much lobbying do farmer representatives do? Quite a lot.

The IFA conducted the second highest number of lobbying events, with 1,803 over the year. It was second to IBEC. Macra was next in third place, but way back in terms of the number of events, having held 568 lobbying events, less than one-third of the IFA’s total. The ICMSA was close behind, its 548 lobbying events placing its fifth. That’s three farming organisations in the top five nationally.

Of course, Macra would lobby about non-farming issues too, as do the other farming organisations.

Issues such as the Fair Deal Scheme and mental health issues affect farm families and rural communities, and representations are made to politicians.

Why are farmer representatives so prominent? It’s probably because they have national, regional, and branch structures. That means that policy is agreed and devised, and then TDs, senators and local authority representatives the length and breadth of the country are meant to put the policy forward.

Once upon a time, some of those most critical of farming were very critical of this level of access and influence. Now, it seems the attitude is, to quote the Cranberries debut album title, “everyone else is doing it, so why can’t we?”

The Environmental Pillar is listed 24th in the lobbying charts with 211 events, the ISPCA (138 events) is at 52, Birdwatch Ireland (130) is 60th on the list and An Taisce is 76th, with an even 100 events. The Stop Climate Chaos Coalition (75 events) and the Irish Environmental Network (73 events) are bubbling under, as Larry Gogan used to say.

And what of the other farm organisations? ICOS is 35th (160 events) with the ICSA close behind in 37th (158) place. Outside the top 100 are the contractors body, the FCI (69 events), the INHFA (60 events) and Beef Plan Movement with 33 events.

Of course, a large proportion of these interactions would have been virtual, although socially distanced meetings did occur when lockdown rules permitted.