Anyone with a sense of this country’s history will be sad to see the apparent slide of the Irish Labour Party towards, potentially, political irrelevance.

In the most recent opinion poll, they are languishing on 3%, behind Sinn Féin, Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, the Social Democrats, Áontú, and the Green Party, level with People Before Profit/Solidarity.

Independents Ireland, currently not being polled as a party, but within the ranks of the independents currently out-polling could well pass them too, if Michael’s Collins and Fitzmaurice and Richard O’Donoghue can add to their ranks, either from the slew of county council candidates standing in their name or defections from other parties.

That puts the Labour Party potentially as low as ninth place (admittedly, they are only a couple of percentage points from being in fourth place).

It’s the lowest ebb in my lifetime of the party founded 112 years ago by James Connolly and Jim Larkin.

Can Ivana Bacik restore the party’s fortunes? So far, she hasn’t had a single significant political win since becoming leader. The last time the Labour Party could really celebrate was when she herself won the byelection in Dublin Bay South.


The party’s footprint in rural Ireland is weakening. The likes of Willie Penrose in Longford/Westmeath and Jack Wall in Kildare South and Sean Sherlock were stalwarts who regularly attended farmers meetings.

Penrose and Sherlock were engaging and engaged agricultural spokespersons. Alan Kelly currently wears that mantle, but the former party leader seems not very engaged with the sector.

Neither his personal website nor his profile on the Labour Party website contain much about agriculture, food, forestry or fisheries.

The news that Brendan Howlin and Sean Sherlock are not contesting the next general election means that Kelly in Tipperary North and Ged Nash in Louth are the only TDs outside Dublin seeking a return.

That doesn’t mean the party won’t pick up seats around the country - the 14 extra TDs at the next election mean everyone will have that opportunity.

George Lawlor in Wexford and Mark Wall (Jack’s son) in Kildare South are two TDs in rural constituencies with genuine chances.

2024 conference

Labour held its 2024 party conference last weekend. Among the 89 motions, only three concerned agriculture and rural affairs.

The third was very simple - a commitment for rural broadband rollout to be “speedy”. And so say all of us.

The other two are pretty interesting. One was focused with a multi-faceted look at food production and supply, the other looked at public access to land.

Motion 60 began with a call for “the reconstitution of Teagasc to be a food security and sustainability agency”. I don’t know how closely the Dublin South Central constituency of Labour, who sponsored the motion, have looked at Teagasc and what it currently does.

Perhaps they are aware that Teagasc already has a three-pronged remit. It is the State research agency for agriculture and food, it is the advisory body to Ireland’s 130,000 farmers and it is also the educational body, running some of the agricultural colleges and most of the other green cert options around the country. That’s a lot to be going along with for now.

Would a “reconstitution” be a step forward or a disruption to the work currently being done?

Teagasc hosted an open day in Johnstown Castle, the agency’s environment research centre in September 2022, focused on “Farming for tomorrow”.


It was an expo of the wide array of efficiencies, adaptations and technologies farmers are being urged to utilise on their farms. It also demonstrated some of the cutting-edge measuring of carbon and soil processes, vital to understanding how we minimise the footprint of farming.

For anyone interested in the more than 150 pages of information from that day, the booklet is available online.

My understanding is that a similar event is being held later this year. It would be great to see some representatives of the Labour Party, and indeed all the other political parties, along on the day.

There are seeds of improvement in the nature of the dialogue between farmers and those calling for fast and significant changes in what we do in our daily work.

Feeding Ourselves 2024 in Cloughjordan’s eco village saw a “deep listening” session, with an emphasis on absorbing the “other” point of view rather than scoring points. Jackie Cahill and Dr Mary Bourke were among the people who attended a walk in Wexford hosted by SloWaters Ireland, with constructive engagement.

Broader issues

The rest of that same Labour Party motion focused on food chain resilience. Most farmers would agree with much of it, although below-cost selling is only a starting point, not an end goal, for the fruit and vegetable sector in particular. A reconstitution of the entire power balance is required.

Motion 61 will probably come across as problematic for most farmers. It calls for permissive routes on private land to become rights of way, to give powers to local authorities and national government to establish rights of way “to and along rivers, lakeshores, the coast, and to open mountain/hill countryside”.

The motion does state that liability should transfer from landowners to the State, unless the landowner is being deliberately obstructive, but I reckon farmers will feel that doesn’t justify such a profound change in property rights.

Compensation should be paid “through farm payment schemes, or other appropriate schemes if the landowner isn’t a farmer”.

In other words, the already overworked CAP payment system will be tasked with yet another responsibility, perhaps through ACRES. I’m not sure farmers will be prepared to “deep listen” to this proposal.

Labour could still rally through the spate of upcoming elections. However many TDs they have in the next Dail, they could well form part of the next government.

Will these proposals be a part of their ask when engaging in government formation talks? Perhaps not, but they are now official party policy.

I didn’t get to the conference. With the upcoming change in Taoiseach, it is possible that the timeframe for the general election will be pushed into 2025.

In that case, next year’s Labour Party conference could well be in the run-up to polling day. I’ll make it my business to ensure at least one agri journalist is in the room. I might well be the only farmer present.