In light of the recent happenings in the Food Vision beef and sheep group, perhaps it’s time to ask just how stakeholder consultation is functioning for farmers.

The INHFA has walked away, the ICSA is barely inside the door anymore, and most other farm organisations are expressing serious misgivings about the process and its likely outcomes.

Let’s consult the Cambridge Dictionary on the meaning of “consultation”. It is defined as “the process of discussing something with someone in order to get their advice or opinion about it”.

And, in theory, the views of stakeholders and interested parties are being sought, so future policy might address their concerns and be informed by their aspirations.

However, for this and recent Governments, has the entire consultation process morphed into a mere ‘box ticking’ exercise which creates the illusion of dialogue?

The Dealer suspects that it’s merely a cloak of convenience to allow the Government do whatever they want. Government ministers can say that they have “consulted widely with industry stakeholders” before deciding on a certain course of action. Is this approach just becoming a charade?

We’ve had three very high-profile examples in a year of what Charlie McConalogue has termed “consultation”.

The first was his tour of the country’s marts. This was billed as Charlie listening to farmers on CAP.

Charlie certainly listened, and Charlie talked – but were there any substantive changes to Ireland’s CAP programme as a result? Apart from some adjustments to eco schemes, no, but the tour ticked the consultation box.

The second example was the Food Vision dairy group. The stakeholders talked; the stakeholders differed; Gerry Boyle produced a report, from which the farm organisations distanced themselves; and Charlie and the Government again ticked the consultation box.

The Food Vision beef and sheep group is following a similar pattern to its dairy equivalent. It is likely that chair Thia Hennessy will produce a report; the farm organisations are already distancing themselves; but Charlie and the Government can point to the “extensive consultation process”. Box ticked.

Farm organisations

The proliferation of farm organisations is not helping. With IFA, ICMSA, ICSA, INHFA and Macra all pursuing different policy objectives, the focus is too broad, it is impossible to deliver on all the asks. They can be played off, one against another. Like the song Garden Party says, “you can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself”.

And for farmers, it’s very much a case of say what you like, but do as you’re told.