It was always likely that the first big farmer get-together post-lockdown would turn out to be a protest.
Farmer discontent at the sheer volume of change unfolding, coupled with a sense of grievance that agriculture is unfairly accused of being laggard in the battle against climate change, made a protest a near inevitability.
The numbers were decent, with hundreds gathering in Cavan while it was still dark, and increasingly bigger crowds as the protest moved through the provinces.
IFA president Tim Cullinan got tough as he moved further south –there would be no cut in the national herd on his watch, he said in Roscommon.
Darkness had descended again long before the hierarchy landed in Cork, to a crowd estimated at between 3,000 and 4,000.
Dairy farmers were well represented, disproportionately so.
Perhaps it reflected the fact that while suckler farmers are enraged that the minister would even suggest a capping mechanism on their herds, dairy farmers know that they have far more to lose from nitrates.
Complexity of CAP
On CAP, the policy measures the IFA highlighted didn’t seem to catch fire with farmers. Pushing back against 25% eco schemes, and calling for 20% instead, just doesn’t have the same resonance as the simple refrain of “they won’t take our cows”. The complexity of CAP ironically makes it harder to oppose.
The day was a success, but what next? If the level of engagement the IFA seeks from Government isn’t forthcoming, the threat to take to the streets of Dublin is a big escalation.
Surely on the back of the flat budget for farmers this week and €49m in carbon tax being siphoned to the Department of Social Protection from farming, going to Dublin is now a very real possibility.
The IFA has always been disciplined, able to bring the troops in and out on the signal of leadership
The old rules of engagement still apply today. Have a clear objective, and have an exit strategy.
The IFA has always been disciplined, able to bring the troops in and out on the signal of leadership.
We saw in 2019 what can happen in the absence of a defined chain of command, with one set of leaders stepping away from the factory protests, but another wave emerging as the stand-off became more entrenched and intractable.
The combination of nitrates, CAP and climate change makes the measurement of progress difficult and rather subjective
Will there be an agreed definition of what constitutes satisfactory engagement between the Government and farmer representatives?
The combination of nitrates, CAP and climate change makes the measurement of progress difficult and rather subjective.
The question also needs to be asked, how much more negotiation or engagement does the IFA need with the Government? It appears to have meetings with the Department on some issue or other most weeks.
While hundreds of miles were logged up last Friday, and indeed by Minister McConalogue on his tour of the country’s marts, the hard yards start now.