Cllr Fintan Cooney received the unanimous support of councillors this week when he called for the re-establishment of the County Council Committee of Agriculture, with the result that his notice of motion is to be circulated to other county councils around the country.
The Fine Gael councillor believes the restoration of the committee, or an equivalent, would provide a vital forum for farmers to air their grievances and discuss them with local representatives.
“In the height of the Celtic Tiger, agriculture took a back seat, but in the present climate there is more concern about the importance of agriculture,” said Cllr Cooney.
“Agriculture has gone through so many changes in the past 15 to 20 years, particularly with our membership of the EU. Farmers are subject to stringent regulations, particularly in the environmental area, where local authorities are very involved. The restoration of the committee would give farmers and elected representatives an opportunity to pursue mutual interests.”
Supporting Cllr Cooney’s motion, Cllr Frank McDermott said that although “the bricks and mortar of the construction industry are falling”, people still have to eat and are beginning to return to nature. “It is very important to recognise our principal industry for what it is - the backbone of our society,” he said.
As a former member of the Westmeath Committee of Agriculture, Cllr Paddy Hill said the committee would provide a great opportunity to discuss some of the issues facing farming. “Farmers cannot get information regarding regulations, and a one-stop-shop is needed in the county where people can get this information. There are so many things to comply with,” he pointed out.
“Farmers are used to being in a recession - we have been in one for the last 30 years. It’s a pity it has taken the fall of the Celtic Tiger to get us to this point,” said Cllr John Dolan, who was also concerned at the cuts in funding to agricultural colleges.
Meanwhile Cllr Dan McCarthy said he had come across a number of farmers who were unable to meet their debts and their development levies to the county council, and that they needed a forum for support and advice.
Quoting the song ‘The Fields of Athenry’ which he said described an “agrarian disturbance”, Cllr Michael Newman said things had come full circle.
“We have seen the complete resurgence of agriculture and then the death of it. Seventy per cent of Ireland is agricultural land. It’s an absolute disgrace the condition of this country agriculturally.”