IFA: six decades of delivery
The Irish Farmers’ Association was founded as the NFA on the 6th January, 1955, and celebrated its 60th Anniversary in 2015. The country’s largest representative organisation for farmers and primary food producers is based on grass roots organisation and a strong democratic tradition of representation.
IFA has been the farmers’ voice for six decades in every single important decision impacting upon Ireland’s largest indigenous industry. At local, national and EU level, IFA’s active and dedicated voluntary officer structure works with a professional staff to improve farm incomes and address issues across the entire spectrum of food production, constantly adapting to a rapidly changing economic and political environment.
A history of action and delivery
6th January 1955 – At a mass meeting of 2,000 farmers in the Four Provinces Ballroom, Harcourt Street, Dublin, Juan Greene made the formal proposal to establish the National Farmers’ Association. The first elections to the National Executive were held in May of that year.
Seeking the right to negotiate on behalf of farmers rather than merely be consulted, 1966 saw the launch of the NFA Farmers’ Rights Campaign. Members set out from as far away as Bantry, Co Cork to march on Dublin to demand to be heard, culminating in a sit-in for 21 days on the steps of Government Buildings. Against continued government resistance, a road and bridge blockade and rates strike saw dozens of NFA members jailed for several months. Only significant movement on the right to negotiate on key legislation, and the establishment of marketing and advisory boards with farmer representatives, brought the campaign to a victorious end.
‘IFA’ came into existence in 1971 and moved its Dublin headquarters from Earlsfort Terrace to the newly built Irish Farm Centre a year later. The Association supported Ireland’s entry into the European Community and was a prominent campaigner in favour of the successful 1972 Common Market Referendum, which saw Ireland join the EEC the following year. IFA’s rationale for joining was to give farmers direct access to the higher prices available in The Common Market and the supports under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
Not only was IFA responsible for the establishment of Farmer Business Developments (FBD) in the late 1960s which led to Ireland’s most successful domestic insurance company, it was also instrumental in the foundation of Cork Marts-IMP and the Irish Farm Accounts Co-operative.
Leadership and Unity
This drive for innovation and diversification on behalf of members and the industry also led to the more recent establishment of Agri-Aware and IFA’s range of modern member services including telecoms and energy supply. The current IFA membership package is worth over €1,000 in savings and opportunities for each paid up member.
From an early stage, IFA also recognised the need to establish close alliances and working relationships with other farm organisations, as well as bilateral links with the NFU in the UK and the UFU in Northern Ireland. The organisation developed a strong affinity with organisations in France, Germany and elsewhere using its membership of international federations including COPA at EU level and The World Farmers Organisation. The Association keeps in close contact to influence policy at the European Parliament, EU Commission and EU Council through the serious commitment of a permanent office in Brussels since before our accession to the Community.
During the 1970s and ‘80s many new challenges faced farmers and were dealt with head on by IFA including devaluations of the ‘Green Pound’, milk quotas, Intervention, Disadvantaged Areas. At home, the 2% sales levy was fiercely resisted. IFA members finally won success through the courts for the abolition of the Poor Law Valuation system, bringing an end to a rates campaign stretching back to the establishment of the NFA.
Unceasing defence of farming
The 1980s and 1990s saw the entry of IFA into the first of a series of social partnership agreements with government, employers and trade unions – a crucial role which put IFA at the centre of national decision making on agricultural policy. Terrible weather conditions in the mid-80s put farmers under intense pressure. In 1989, Ireland’s Commissioner Ray McSharry and IFA entered what was to be the first of many tough campaigns over CAP reform, which was intrinsically linked with pressure on the EU to remove supports and open trade to third countries through the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). The Association made GATT and WTO (The World Trade Organisation) national issues and those who dealt with the reforms became well known because of IFA opposition to changes proposed by Messrs Sutherland, Santer, Fischler, Mandelson, and Ciolos.
IFA’s national protests have been an effective and legitimate expression of farmer frustration and electoral strength, whether outside UMP plants campaigning for farmers to be paid money for their cattle, Superlevy mass rallies, price campaigns for sheep, cattle, milk, pigs or vegetables and the famous beef blockade of January 2000.
A massive protest in October 1998 of 40,000 IFA members, assembled at the Phoenix Park in Dublin before marching across the city to Merrion Square, outside the gates of Leinster House. It is widely credited with bringing about the Farm Assist scheme for low-income farm families. Farmer-power was again mobilised over low incomes and a disastrous Budget for farmers with urban dwellers supporting a shutdown of the capital by 3,000 tractors in 2003 in what became known as the ‘Tractorcade’.
Diversity and vision
In an organisation which represents the main sectors as well as a range of diverse sectors from soft fruits to shellfish, forestry to hill farming, issues and challenges are addressed head on by voluntary officers, committees, the Executive Council and staff on a daily basis as well as individual member issues through IFA’s dedicated helplines and regional office network.
IFA was to the forefront in defending farmers’ interests through its exposure of Brazilian beef imports and also in challenging the growing power of the retail multiples across all commodities. Keeping live markets open for our cattle industry to maintain competition and profitability in the sector has also been a consistent and unwavering demand of the organisation over many years.
As the Association celebrates 60 years, it has much to be proud of and a lot more to look forward to as the voice of Irish agriculture in a world where food producers are valued for their role in sustaining a healthy economy, society and environment.