The Irish Farmers Association (IFA) presidential election moved up a gear at the hustings in Co Clare on Wednesday night, in a wide-ranging debate in front of a full house.

Childcare and how it impacts women in farming proved to be a contentious topic.

Macra president Elaine Houlihan asked presidential candidates how they would inspire women to take on leadership roles and change the current culture towards females in the agricultural sector.

As part of his answer, presidential candidate Francie Gorman said more availability of childcare in rural Ireland would allow women “to be able to come to meetings and not feel under pressure that they have to stay at home”.

Gorman made a similar reference in his opening speech. He said the lack of childcare facilities in rural Ireland is “stopping women having a greater role in agriculture”.

There was a full house at the IFA Clare hustings.

John Crowley from Croom, Co Limerick, disagreed.

“Francie was saying about facilities so women could go to meetings. I don’t think I would be putting that out there, because I think it could give the impression that the man couldn’t stay at home and let her go,” said Crowley.


Responding to this, Gorman and Stapleton disagreed on the role childcare should play for female farmers.

Gorman said: “The reality is, Kay [his wife] can’t be here tonight because we can’t get someone to mind Tom [his young son] at night on a regular basis. We need those facilities in rural Ireland. They have them in towns to a greater extent than we have.”

Stapleton said: “I think childcare is the responsibility of the parents. If childcare is needed if women are going to meetings, then childcare is needed if men are going to meetings.

"This is 2023, it has been quite a while since I’ve heard the thinking that if a woman is going to go to a meeting we have to provide childcare for her.”

The number of female farmers in the IFA and farming in general came up several times across the hustings, with questions from the floor in the deputy and presidential debates.

IFA deputy presidential candidate Francie Gorman. \ Donal O' Leary

Gorman said there has always been a significant number of women involved in agriculture, but it’s the recognition they get that is important. He added that he would support targeted gender quotas to get more women in positions in the IFA if they were needed.

A more open, welcoming environment in the IFA, Stapleton said, would encourage more women to get involved in the organisation.

Burren Life

Michael Davoren, Carran, Co Clare, asked presidential candidates what could fill the void left by the former farmer-led Burren Life environmental scheme.

“The Department closed it down. If there was ever an environmental scheme the Greens could agree with, surely it was that. What are you going to do and how are you going to do it?”

IFA presidential candidate Martin Stapleton. \ Donal O' Leary

On Burren Life being wound up, Stapleton said: “It’s a terrible pity that one of the most successful examples of a really good environmental scheme has been discontinued.

“That’s something the IFA needs to change its attitude on: instead of going for broad-based schemes that cover everything, we need to focus far more on specific areas and specific sectors in how we support the environment.”

Gorman said if the Government wants farmers to show environmental ambition, they should aspire towards schemes like Burren Life across the country.

“If you want environmental delivery, it’s not just farmers in the more challenged areas that you need in the environmental schemes, you need the guy that is stocked to a certain level that they say is causing the problem,” added Gorman.

Land designation

The issue of land designation in Co Clare came up several times from the floor in the deputy presidential debate.

IFA deputy presidential candidate Alice Doyle. \ Andy Gibson.

Willie Hanrahan, Doonbeg, Co Clare, said: “Vast areas of Co Clare are designated in some form or other. We can hardly use our own land anymore.”

In response, deputy presidential candidate Alice Doyle referenced the Burren Life scheme.

She said this farmer-led model needs to be used as a blueprint when going into Government negotiations in this regard.

“We have to be proactive in going in with the right material, getting it from the people on the ground. We won’t always get our way, but if we don’t go in prepared, we can be sure we will have to come out and take what we get,” Doyle added.

IFA deputy presidential candidate Pat Murphy. \ Andy Gibson.

Deputy presidential candidate Pat Murphy said where land is designated, compensation should be paid on that land. When compensation stops, that designation should be lifted.

“Designated land that is not getting compensation, must be compensated. Any new land designated must also be compensated. That money should come from a separate EU fund for the environment and not out of CAP,” Murphy added.

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