Eamon Ryan attending the ICMSA AGM was being billed in some quarters as resembling Daniel in the lion’s den. Eamon, the earnest but naïve evangelist for low-intensity farming, facing the massed ranks of Ireland’s dairy farmers.
It’s often forgotten that Daniel tamed the lion in that Old Testament tale. It’s also often forgotten that Eamon Ryan is a seasoned and skilful politician.
Don’t be fooled by that day-dreamy disposition, or the capacity for the occasional clanger, there is a shrewd political mind at work.
Ryan ensured his message to the ICMSA was less dewy-eyed, more clear-sighted than some of his previous pronouncements on farming. He didn’t refer to farmers as “heroes”, but did acknowledge that they are the primary custodians of the countryside.
While he is confident that farmers have the capacity to rise to the challenge of meeting carbon reduction targets and improving water quality, he was clear in his warning that farmers will be left behind and “lose control” unless they hit their mark.
I’ll be honest. I was expecting the inference that farmers are currently in control would be a red rag to the assembled, who have been hammered by cow banding, nitrates derogation reductions, a longer closed period for slurry and a new ban on December spreading of dirty water, and that’s just in the last 12 months. But somehow Ryan’s mixture of hope, faith and confidence seemed to take the edge off farmers.
Ryan returned to Dublin with hardly a scratch on him, although his promise to attend an ICMSA-organised rewetting meeting in Tullamore may be a more hostile arena.
For another smart political operator, this was the last significant public event of a very successful six-year reign.
Pat McCormack has proven a strong advocate of dairy farmers, uncompromising but capable of subtlety and precision in his language and demeanour. When his successor, expected to be Denis Drennan, is elected next month, what next for the Tipperary man?
McCormack is still only 45, but has clocked up a dozen years in the firing line, initially as John Comer’s deputy president.
Might he follow in Jackie Cahill’s footsteps and turn his attention to party politics?
With Cahill and Michael Lowry both now in Tipperary north, there might well be interest in a candidate who would grab the farming vote in Tipperary south.
Sitting TDs Martin Browne and Mattie McGrath are based in Cashel and Clonmel, respectively, McCormack, from near Tipperary town is ideally located.
Will Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael come calling? I can’t see Eamon Ryan repeating Mary Harney’s trick of convincing Tom Parlon to run for the Progressive Democrats.
McCormack did bring Mary Lou McDonald and Matt Carthy to last year’s ICMSA AGM. Were he to run for Sinn Féin, (a long shot, I know) he might well be the next Minister for Agriculture.