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Denis Drennan
President, ICMSA

Withdrawal of dairy-reduction scheme – farmer patience betrayed

The old axiom says that a person’s actions provide a much truer picture of their character than their pronouncements.

If we had ever forgotten the wisdom of that old warning, then the Government’s eye-popping cynicism – on full display in their withdrawal of a dairy-reduction scheme – brought it back to the forefront of our minds and must govern our future attitudes toward this Government.
That the decision came just days after the leaders of both main parties to the coalition told their respective ard fheiseanna that they would support farming makes the subsequent decision on a dairy-reduction scheme even more corrosive and damaging to their reputation among farm communities. Remember, it was Minister McConalogue himself who had proposed such a scheme (effectively an ‘exit’ scheme) and instructed his officials to ‘flesh it out’ to the extent that they calculated a baseline figure that was carried in the farm media.

But then another option possibly offered itself: why not just regulate the dairy farmers out of existence? Much cheaper. And that is what I believe they have decided to do. Obviously as Ireland’s specialist dairy farmer organisation, we think that’s a decision that will have ruinous consequences for the rural areas of Ireland. That might seem an exaggeratedly pessimistic view, but we are forced to believe – through the weight of evidence – that Minister McConalogue and his Cabinet colleagues, despite their protestations, do want our dairy and livestock sectors effectively gone. And, in fairness to the minister, he has been giving us hints. In the interview on Morning Ireland in which he announced the reduction scheme would not be proceeding, he pledged support for farmers to grow crops and get involved in biomethane, but was notably half-hearted about the beef sector and weaker again on our world-beating dairy sector, both of which are collapsing in stages in front of his eyes.

The decision on the dairy reduction scheme is cynical and slippery. The minister’s own officials proposed this scheme in February 2022, they put figures on it and the minister stated publicly what the base year would be.  The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) officials pushed strongly for the inclusion of this scheme in the final report. This created an expectation, and farmers began making preparations on the basis that the scheme was on the way. Now, after waiting for two years, they realise that they have been led up the garden path and the minister has no intention now of introducing an exit scheme. He’s just going to regulate dairy farmers out of existence with no exit package. It is unbelievably cynical and gives a glimpse of what the Irish Government really thinks of its dairy and livestock farmers and the sectors that they built. It’s worth noting that the ICMSA met with department officials a number of weeks ago and we were informed at that stage that this scheme was still under active consideration and no indication was given that it was going to be abolished. 

The only way of describing the treatment of Irish dairy farmers and their representative organisations on this question is ‘two-faced’ and it is deeply unacceptable. The most insulting aspect of this demoralising incident is that the people and groups who participated in the Dairy Vision Group had to learn via a radio show that the minister is scrapping two of their key recommendations. Even the Dutch Government, involved recently in a historic row with that country’s farmers, introduced a well-funded transition scheme and disdained the cheapskate ‘regulating-out-of-existence’ approach of our Government.

It’s a really poor day for the DAFM and an even poorer day for those of us who assumed that we could accept in good faith what we were being told was going to happen. The ICMSA will be meeting with Taoiseach Simon Harris shortly and we will be asking him blunt questions about this episode and others. We cannot continue with this uncertainty – created by our own Government – for any longer.