Farmers, finance, and further matters

I cannot pass this week without referring to the farmers. Every news bulletin for the past number of days has the IFA either as its main item or featuring prominently.

Since it all broke I have spoken to a few farmers and they tell me the biggest feeling they have is one of betrayal. They know their IFA is a strong lobbying organisation with some marvellous results from its advocacy, but seemingly nobody had any idea of the very vast salaries being paid to those at the top. Now they are being forced to come clean and every day sees a fresh damning revelation.

Where is it all going to end? The IFA has 947 branches, 12 regional offices, 29 county executives and 4,000 voluntary officers, as well as thousands and thousands of members throughout the country. So many feel let down by the tales of high salaries that are coming out in dribbles day by day. And yet Irish farmers need a powerful IFA.

Wise advice would seem to be that they should come clean and everyone in receipt of any salary in the IFA should be declared. In that way people can judge themselves if the people they pay are worth it. The IFA can ill afford this drip, drip, drip of bad news coupled with more bad news. They would be well advised to make one big bang of all of their confessions and then let everyone in the farming community analyse and decide.

Many decades ago, Charlie Haughey called the IFA a “pipsqueak organisation”. The farmers need the IFA but, more importantly, the IFA needs the farmers to remain as members. As I said above, the sooner it all gets opened up to the public and explained the better it will be. Enda Kenny made a wise move this week when he said if Fine Gael were returned to government they would refer the whole abortion issue to a citizen’s constitutional convention, which would debate it fully. Then there would be a referendum and the people would decide. It sounds like a good idea.

I wonder if Enda was prompted by his chief advisor, Fionnuala O’Kelly (his wife ) and his behind-the-scenes advisor, Frank Flannery, on the route to diffuse what could have become a very ugly and angry issue during the course of the General Election. It would be good to see it debated in public through a constitutional convention.

So often the debate about abortion is one-sided, and yet it has to be so explained that there are two people involved: the mother bearing the child and the child she is bearing. So often the latter is left out of highly polarised debates.

We had a wonderful event in Custume Barracks over last weekend. The Old Athlone Society, which is 50 years in existence, ran a series of lectures by eminent speakers. Among them Dr Padraig Lenihan of NUI Galway (my nephew ). Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman gave a wonderful lecture on the murder of Captain Noel Lemass of 1923.

For his paper, he drew on the Irish Law Reports on various libel actions and among literary traces especially Samuel Beckett’s novel Mercier et Camier and the poetry of Austin Clarke and Harry Clifton. It was a most memorable lecture to be followed by Ian Kenneally, a local author, historian, and broadcaster, who spoke knowledgeably in his paper of the history of Custume Barracks.

Then we had Dr Patrick Wallace, who was the director of the National Museum and gave a wonderful lecture on the development of horsedrawn public transport in Athlone 1740-1840. We had Dr Rory Sherlock, an archaeologist and architectural historian, who spoke with such knowledge on Athlone Castle. And of course we had our own Dr Harman Murtagh, who is so erudite and such a wonderful lecturer.

He spoke of the Anglo-Norman settlement in South Roscommon. All in all, it was a wonderful day of lectures and conviviality through the coffee breaks and great chats with everyone. Well done to the old Athlone Society.

So the electoral debate rages on. Who will/will not join with whom after the General Election? Let the people decide I say. And I continue to take issue with Micheál Martin regarding his stance, ‘We won’t join with Sinn Féin’, ‘We won’t join with Fine Gael’, ‘We won’t join with anyone’. As I said before in this column, it seems a foolish stance to take, but I guess more will emerge during the course of the election debates and of course in the end it is the people who will decide who will join with whom. So we had better leave that matter to the electorate.

I will talk with you all next week. In the meantime, mind yourselves and go safe.

Slán go Fóill,

Mary O’Rourke

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