The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association (ICSA) is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Reconstituted from the old Irish Cattle Traders and Stockowners’ Association, a group which had links back to the 19th century and was referenced in James Joyce’s Ulysses, the ICSA came about as a splinter group from the IFA. The drystock association has grown to having 10,000 members and, perhaps, its biggest victory was campaigning for the abolition of coupled payments in the early 2000s. Its other main selling point is that it does not collect levies from its members and is reliant almost entirely on membership subs. Its current general secretary is Eddie Punch. Here we speak to the two presidential candidates ahead of the vote on Thursday 14 December.
Co Limerick suckler and beef farmer Seamus Sherlock is the current rural development chair, having previously served as vice chair of the committee. He has had a number of high-profile campaigns on issues such as vulture funds, flooding, greenways and mental health.
Sherlock believes his strength is in delivering unity for the ICSA.
“It’s about being team ICSA from start to finish,” Sherlock said. “We have capable people in every sector, whether that’s suckler or sheep or whatever.”
The profitability of farming is never far from the thoughts of farm leaders but the financial viability of the drystock sector is a major concern.
“The role of president is to try to bring profitability back to the sector. I’ve been speaking to suckler and sheep farmers from right across the country and they’re telling me that they won’t be able to keep going.
“We’ve done a lot of great work on the hen harrier scheme and I welcome the announcement from Minister Creed last week but the animal that’s most at risk from extinction is the suckler cow. We have to fight to keep her on the ground.”
Sherlock said more protection is needed for the beef farmer.
“The farmer holds on to the animal for three years and gets 21% of the price, the factory holds on to the animal for three weeks and get 28% of the price but the retailer holds on to the animal for just three days but gets 51% of the price. That’s a serious problem that needs to be addressed.”
There have been calls for the introduction of a coupled payment for the suckler sector as a way of injecting income into farmers’ pockets. The ICSA made its name on campaigning for the removal of such a payment nearly 20 years ago.
Does Sherlock believe this view should continue and there should be no coupled payment?
“There is no real answer to that straight away. If I am lucky enough to be elected president then I will sit down with the suckler chairman and suckler committee and decide what the best course of action is. We need people’s involvement on a big issue like that,” Sherlock said.
In relation to the issue which saw former national treasurer James Reynolds removed from his position on the Longford branch executive and, by extension, his position as national treasurer, Sherlock said he had no comment to make other than he is happy to have moved on.
Finally, what is Sherlock’s call to the electorate for their vote?
“I want to tell the members of the ICSA that I am there for them. You’re not alone with the ICSA. If you have a problem or an issue or you are struggling, we are here for you. You’re not alone and we want to fight on your behalf with me as the president.”
Home: Feohanagh, Co Limerick.
Farm size: 60ac.
Farm type: Suckler and beef.
ICSA history: Currently two years into the term as rural development chair, previously was vice chair of the committee.
It’s a case of continuing the work that has been done up to now for Co Wexford suckler and sheep farmer Patrick Kent. Kent has held the position of ICSA president for the past four years having taken over from Gabriel Gilmartin.
The ICSA president can serve a maximum of three two-year terms.
“I’m very proud to have represented a sector of farming that is producing seriously good food and hope that I will have the opportunity to do so for a further two years.
“Over the last four years ICSA has grown and developed as an association and is constantly punching above its weight. I hope that if I am re-elected we can achieve much more,” Kent said in his manifesto (he preferred this to an actual interview with the Irish Farmers Journal).
“I will continue to work to the very best of my ability to represent drystock farmers throughout this country. Every ICSA member is of equal importance to me and I value the views of all members of the association. The ethos of the independence of ICSA, which is based on fairness and integrity, will continue be the cornerstone of my presidency.”
As well as a focus on greater pillar I and II CAP supports, Kent says farmers can, and should, get more from the marketplace to ensure a sustainable and viable future.
“I will work hard [to ensure that] farmers are paid for the saleable meat [and] with the recognition of the value of the fifth quarter … [and] I am now calling for €5/kg for our beef and €6/kg for our lamb.”
Kent also wants “Ireland to be designated a GM-free country” and is pushing for the ICSA “to be allocated a seat on the boards of Teagasc, Bord Bia, and ICBF”.
When asked about the James Reynolds situation and if it had damaged the reputation of the ICSA, Kent said he would not comment on that.
And so, what does Kent see as being the role of president for the ICSA?
“The role is much more than photo opportunities and press releases. Agricultural lobbying is not about quick fixes; it takes time to build up working relationships with policy makers and to impress on them the importance of the drystock sector in maintaining the viability not alone of farming but of rural Ireland also …. In order for ICSA to grow and become an even more effective lobbying force, we must work together.”
Home: New Ross, Co Wexford.
Farm size: Medium.
Enterprise: Beef and sheep.
ICSA history: Six years as Leinster vice-president, current national president for past four years.