We are here today to honour one of our great farm leaders.
Most people will be very aware of Padraig Walshe’s achievements here in Ireland.
However, people might not be as familiar with his achievements at European level.
He was the only Irish person to lead the European farm organisation COPA.
Selected by his peers from all over Europe to be their leader.
Upon hearing the news last Thursday, COPA described Padraig as a fervent advocate of agriculture, who defended our European farmers’ interest with passion and dedication.
Following his term as IFA President, Padraig was appointed by the Irish Government to the European Economic and Social Committee.
Padraig was a great European. From an early age, he was heavily involved in the European young farmers’ organisation CEJA.
Indeed, one of his last public engagements was to address their conference in Dublin on January 25th which was hosted by Macra. Back to where it all started for him.
Padraig has left us, all too soon, in the year when we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ireland joining the European Union in 1973.
He was big in stature and he was big in leadership.
First and foremost, he was an outstanding farmer. Despite all the time he gave supporting others, he managed to operate his farm business to an exemplary standard.
Such was his standing that he was recognised as ‘Ireland’s milk supplier of the year’.
Many of his colleagues from his discussion groups are here today. He was generous with his knowledge of farming and farm policy. His farm was a showcase of the best of Irish dairy farming.
But Padraig had an outstanding grasp of every sector’s issues.
Even though he was busy building up his farm, Padraig had a strong sense of the value in representing farmers.
One of his earliest memories would have been farmers from west Cork stopping at the house here in Durrow in 1966.
They were on their way to Dublin as part of the Farmers’ Rights March.
The hospitality, sense of community and support offered to them remains a hallmark of the Walshe house to this day.
Padraig made his mark in Macra na Feirme and became President in 1987.
His appetite for knowledge and his quest to apply science were sharpened by his involvement in Nuffield and the Irish Grassland Association.
Padraig was one of Nuffield’s first Irish scholars in 1996. After extensive travel and research, he delivered his paper ‘Ireland’s place in the world of milk in the new century’.
But he was keen to continue his work for his fellow farmers.
Padraig served as Chairman of the IFA Dairy Committee at a time when quotas were holding back the true potential of the dairy sector.
He worked tirelessly here and in Brussels to bring about change.
His legacy is evident in the powerhouse that our dairy sector has become.
Anybody who encountered Padraig came away impressed by his ability to assess a situation and take in all the factors.
He was able to marshall his argument to put the views of farmers front and centre.
And that was at the core of Padraig’s beliefs – that whatever was happening in the sector, farmers had to have a voice.
In the tradition of the role of President, he took on whatever issue was in front of him, no matter how few were impacted.
The prevailing wisdom during his Presidency was that trade deals were good and nothing should stand in their way.
In 2008, the talks got all the way to Geneva and looked like succeeding.
But Padraig persevered and played a pivotal role in turning around the perception that agriculture could be sacrificed.
He instilled pride among farmers who were feeling forgotten. And he was a match for anybody in any arena of debate.
In more recent years, Padraig devoted his considerable leadership skills to Farmer Business Developments, which he chaired, and as a director of FBD Holdings.
He brought the same passion and energy to these roles. In FBD, he saw many of the values that apply to IFA.
It was established by farmers for the benefit of farmers.
To Ella, Julieanne, Catherine, Elma and Pat, and all his family, I want to say how grateful we are for what he did for Irish and European farming.
Padraig leaves behind a legacy of leadership, vision and purpose.
It was Newton that coined the phrase ‘I can see further because I am standing on the Shoulders of Giants’.
There is no doubt. Padraig Walshe was a giant in every sense of the word.
May he Rest in Peace.