The political system in the Netherlands is reeling following the shock success of a fledgling farmer-led party in last week’s elections.

The Farmer-Citizen Movement, known as the BBB, topped the polls in the nationwide provincial elections. It means the party will now have 17 seats of the 75 seats in the upper house of the Dutch parliament, the Senate.

It’s an astonishing rise for a party founded in 2019 in the wake of farmer protests against stringent environmental regulations.

In the 2021 general election, it polled 1%, gaining only one of the 150 seats on offer. That seat was taken by party leader and founder Caroline van der Plas, who arrived in parliament on a tractor. A former journalist who also worked with farm organisations, van der Plas has Irish roots. Her mother, Nuala Fitzpatrick, moved to the Netherlands and became active in party politics there.


“It’s not just about nitrogen, it’s about citizens who are not seen, not heard, not taken seriously,” van der Plas said.

The question now is whether the BBB will affect government policy, with a planned halving of nitrogen emissions by 2030 set to slash the numbers of farms and livestock by about 30%.

Could Ireland see a rural party rise?
In Ireland, there currently are 22 independent TDs. Most of these are from rural constituencies, and are gathered into three loose strategic alliances. Could these groups coalesce into a party or political platform?

Michael Fitzmaurice. \David Ruffles

Michael Fitzmaurice, Roscommon

“It’s time that the people of rural Ireland put up or shut up,” said the Galway-Roscommon deputy, when asked about the possibility by the Irish Farmers Journal. Fitzmaurice, a member of the Independent group, said he could foresee a coming together of existing TDs and candidates before the next general election.

“I’m not sure it would be a political party, but we would need five or six agreed positions on the major issues for rural Ireland, with candidates willing to stick to those principles in the Dáil that follows,” he said. Fitzmaurice sees farmers being “divided and conquered” by the slew of legislation around nitrates, carbon emissions, turf cutting and land use.

“The Dutch people found their voice, and those of us representing rural communities won’t be silenced,” Fitzmaurice said.

Mattie McGrath.

Mattie McGrath,Tipperary

“There’s no political party representing rural people any more,” said the Tipperary man, a member of the six-strong Rural Independents.

“Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael certainly aren’t, and I don’t see Sinn Féin fighting for rural issues. They’re all like nodding donkeys in the face of the NGOs that are running the country with taxpayers’ money.

“The demonisation of the farming community over climate change is outrageous.

“If you take a different view of things to the consensus you are cancelled – I believe that the climate change agenda is way over the top, and farming is an easy target.”

Verona Murphy. \ Barry Cronin

Verona Murphy, Wexford

“The question has to asked – where is this vote coming from?” said the Wexford TD, who is part of the Regional Independent group.

“The BBB are not climate deniers, what they are saying is what we have been saying here in Ireland. We must progress on the understanding that, respectfully, citizens need farmers and farmers need citizens.

“The divide that was there when I got elected has expanded,” she continued. “We are going to regret it if we empty rural communities.

“Farming, fisheries, forestry, planning, transport are all huge issues. We are largely disregarded.”

Michael McNamara.

Michael McNamara, Clare

“Food Harvest targets encouraged farmers to drive on, now they are being told to reverse that investment, and in too tight a timescale,” said the Clare TD, also a member of the Independent group.

“We’re seeing a response to that dynamic in the Netherlands, where agriculture is much more intensive than in Ireland. Rather than trying to scramble a platform after an election I’d like to see a small number of key measures be agreed among rural candidates prior to an election.

“We used to have a reactionary right, now we have a reactionary left. Anyone who questioned our strategy on COVID-19, or on climate change, is painted as a conspiracy theorist – there seems little room for an opposing view,” he concluded.