Wexford woman Alice Doyle has become the first woman to contest either one of the IFA’s national leadership positions – president or deputy president – in the history of the IFA.

Following years of involvement with the IFA, Doyle is hoping to break the association’s glass ceiling with her bid for the deputy role.

However, for many women, there are still “no next steps” for political ascension beyond local-level involvement, according to the Women’s Collective Ireland CEO, Miriam Holt.

Speaking at a recent Oireachtas Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth meeting, Holt described ‘six Cs’ as the barriers to female participation in public roles – cash, childcare, confidence, culture, candidate selection procedures and cyber abuse.

“The women we work with have highlighted fear and impostor syndrome,” she added.

Holt’s points seem to ring true when it comes to female participation in Irish farm politics.

Statistics don’t lie

Just three (5%) of the 57 members of IFA’s national council are women. A number of years ago, there were 10. There are also no female IFA county chairs or national officers.

While nominations for the association’s national leadership elections later this year have not yet closed, Doyle remains the sole woman declared.


The Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) is no different, with none of its senior leadership or sectoral roles – and just three of 52 committee positions – held by women.

All of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association (ICSA) and Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) senior elected roles are also filled by men.

Meanwhile, across the water, Minette Batters heads up the National Farmers Union (NFU), the largest farm organisation in the UK.

The Irish Farmers Journal spoke to a number of women involved in farm politics about why they got involved and the barriers to progression they’ve experienced.

Vanessa Kiely O’Connor

“I got involved as I have a farm business and had questions for my business. I always turned up to my local meetings, asked questions and I was encouraged to be there.”

ICMSA business committee vice chair, Vanessa Kiely O’Connor.

“You look at Jacinda Ardern from New Zealand – she faced so much scrutiny. You’d want a neck of steel for the political side of it. The farm organisations need to do a bit of soul-searching and see how they can reach out to their female members; get them involved.

“We’re sick of being in the room on our own, but at the same time, you have to be present for other women to see you.

“I’m a full-time farmer. Labour is an issue for me. If I engage [with the ICMSA] and I’m going to be off farm, I have to find somebody. I found that Zoom and online really made it so I could engage.

“There is a big commitment if you go further up, as you’re expected to go to more meetings.

“It’s just the time, the stage of life and the support you have from your family – it makes all the difference.”

Rose Mary McDonagh

“I got elected in my local branch as the vote delegate. My husband came home and said ‘you got a job’.”

IFA farm business chair, Rose Mary McDonagh. \ Donal O' Leary

“I started to go to meetings in Athenry and then a few more once it was comfortable enough to leave my older [children] for babysitting.

“There was a vacancy for the farm business representative in Galway and I’d an election and a campaign. I went on to become the first female chair of the committee.

“At the same time, there’s a sea change coming. The whole organisation has become a lot more accepting and encouraging.

“I have an interest in [progressing] and I’d like to stay in the organisation. You do need a grounding and time. But you’d wonder where the barriers are. You’d wonder, is it still the time it takes?

“There’s nothing stopping me other than having the courage.”

Mary Lacey

“I’ve been involved since the INHFA started. I was secretary for Connemara and now I’m PRO. I was secretary for the IFA for a few years as well. I’ve been involved in farm organisations for a lot of years.

“More women should definitely be getting involved, because we’ve more women farming these days.

“I don’t think I’d have the time to give if I did go for a higher position – I don’t honestly think I’d be able to.

“I’d say it’s particularly an issue with young kids. That would be the reason why there aren’t enough women in INHFA and other farm organisations.”

Mona O’Donoghue

“I was aware there were a lot of discrepancies for women in agriculture. I felt I needed to get involved and rally the troops.”

ICSA Galway chair, Mona O’Donoghue.

“I wouldn’t say it’s intimidating. The ICSA is very open to having women involved. They’re actively looking for women.

“For me, I was getting a scepticism at the start, but as time went on, there was a great acceptance.

“I would love to run for [ICSA] president, but unfortunately the opportunity isn’t there for me at present as I have so many other commitments.

“Everyone is finding the same thing; you get to a certain level, then you hit a block. It’s just the expectations on women – there are so many roles that we hold on the farm, and in the home as well. If you’re between 25 and 50, it’s impossible.”

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