Skip to main content

Pat McCormack
President, ICMSA

‘Lurching to the far right’ comment leaves me mystified

I know that you will have been as surprised as the rest of us to learn, courtesy of a blog written by a prominent environmentalist commentator, that Irish farmers were ‘lurching to the far right’ and their representative bodies, including the ICMSA, were ‘happy to spread conspiracy theories’ and ‘undermine scientists and their findings’.

I must confess that I was a little mystified myself to learn that I and the rest of the 16,000-odd farmer members of ICMSA were ‘lurching’ in any direction, but particularly one that is far right. And, full disclosure: I’m not entirely sure what ‘far right’ is beyond some kind of sinister set of beliefs covering a range of issues and all as uniformly wrong as they are obnoxious. But I’m a farmer, not a political scientist.
However, I am sure that it is not the business of anybody other than ICMSA to decide under what political banner – if any – the association belongs. If the writer had bothered to check – or ask – he would have learned that the association has been absolutely non-political since it was founded over 70 years ago when domestic political allegiances were a good deal more emphatic than they are now. 
Political canvassing or overt expressions of allegiance are not just unwelcome – they are forbidden by rule. I don’t want to labour the point, but it’s worth repeating; impartiality is not just ‘an’ aspect of ICMSA, it is in a very real sense ‘the’ distinctive characteristic that enabled the Association to spread into every area of every county in the knowledge that no other agenda was being pursued save the welfare and interests of family farms. That’s as true in 2023 as it was in 1950 and it’s a non-negotiable feature of our association. 
Farmers are not apart from the wider community, much less in opposition to it. We are where we always have been – right across every political, social and geographic spectrum in Ireland. We are not ‘lurching to the right’ and if my own confusion is any guide then I doubt if there are 10 farmers in Ireland who would even know what this gentleman is talking about. I am not convinced that it’s helpful to use terminology imported from ideologically polarised US politics to describe a polite enquiry from, say, a concerned Offaly farmer to Bord na Móna about the possible effects on his farm of their massive rewetting project happening just over the hedge.
On the broader question of the Nature Restoration law (NRL), we did not engender confusion or ‘conspiracy theories’, we merely pointed out that the onus was on the Government to explain fully and in detail how the law would be applied. If that constitutes a ‘conspiracy theory’ then it is one that is evidently shared by the Taoiseach who went on the record himself with his misgivings.
Regarding the equally curious accusation that bodies like ICMSA are undermining scientists, every single statement we have ever made on the interaction between the environment and farming has stated – upfront and bluntly – that we accept the science. The ICMSA has never – and will never – deny the science around climate change and challenge and, if I may say so, I think that that’s the difference between us and those who think like this commentator. To us, it’s a matter of specific science applied to a specific problem rather than a culture war between so-called ‘goodies’ (the enviromentalists) and ‘baddies’ (anyone who doesn’t agree with them).
This slur against ICMSA and others was never designed to explain or illuminate any point. It was designed, as these kinds of attacks generally are, to put us outside the debate, to expel us from any discussion, and to portray us as people whose beliefs and crazy theories mean that we can be safely ignored or disregarded. That, in my view, was the point of the slur. It ultimately failed, but the fact that it was attempted at all is as disappointing as it is revealing. There has to be respect and genuine willingness to listen, even when we disagree vehemently – especially when we disagree vehemently.