On Tuesday Macra members will assemble to elect their 36th president. The successor to Sean Finan will either be Corkman James Healy or Odile Evans from Wexford. The hustings are over, and votes are being cast in branches all over the country. We spoke to the candidates.
James Healy has been Munster vice-president and chaired the competitions committee. A production supervisor with Wisetek, he believes he has the life experience for the job. “When the crash happened it coincided with the end of the Farm Improvement Scheme, and my job was no longer necessary at the end of that scheme. I had to change career, I had to start at the bottom, I had to work my way up,” he says.
“Despite unemployment being at its lowest since the crash, there are still a lot of young people unemployed. I think that I can relate to people who are facing those challenges. It’s also given me resilience and self-belief.”
He says Macra’s CAP proposals are catering for both the emerging generation of farmers and older farmers.
“Older farmers are very wary of handing over everything, that they will have no income. Young farmers must be aware that a person has spent their whole life working their ground and put everything into it. Putting a plan in place allows a gradual adjustment providing security for both sides.”
What would be the defining issue of his presidency?
“I would like to ensure better participation at every level of the organisation – more people taking on officer roles, taking part in competitions. We must both retain our current members and constantly attract new members. A critical mass of members gives us a strong voice, whether on CAP determination or other farming issues, or in relation to education, jobs, or rural life.
“It all boils down to people feeling the benefit of being in Macra, and that all comes back to activity and feeling that Macra is fighting for them and offering opportunities. If at the end of two years membership and participation have increased by five or 10%, that would make me happy.”
Odile Evans finds it almost ridiculous that she has repeatedly been asked if she is too young to be Macra president. “It’s a youth organisation – I think that an organisation that is for people from 17 to 35 could do with a president who is not on the last lap but typical of the membership, as I am,” she says.
“Since I joined I’ve taken part in every competition bar the welding and drama. I’ve been on national council for the last two years, I am the vice-president and the national treasurer. I’ve worked and studied in the US, Switzerland, and the UK. I’ve been on farms all over Europe, in the US and Canada, and in north Africa. I’m ready for this job. My being 23 should not bar me from election.
“I represent all the significant minorities in Macra – women are 40% of the membership, but Catherine Buckley was our only president.
“Farmers are also a minority in Macra – I’m an ag graduate from UCD who works in the agri media, I live at home, am actively involved on the farm and am passionate about the future for young farmers.
“Macra can be proud that our CAP consultation document is the first to be handed to Commissioner Phil Hogan,” says Evans, who is on leave from her job as a news journalist with the Irish Farmers Journal for this campaign. “It properly represents the views of our members, with an exhaustive process where the views of over 1,000 young farmers have been taken on board.
“We need to develop volatility management at farm and Government level. Macra’s Skillnet programme can help inform the choices young farmers make, for instance in relation to forward selling.
“I’ve learned a lot on the campaign about Macra and myself,” she concludes.