Fine Gael is hosting a conference on agriculture and rural development on Saturday and it sounds like a busy day is ahead.
The party once shared the farming vote with Fianna Fáil, but the rise of a raft of rural Independents and Sinn Féin has complicated that dynamic.
The party has been accused that it has become urban-centric and will hope Saturday’s event grasps this nettle, which has carried quite a sting.
In the 2020 general election, the party lost TDs from farming backgrounds such as Pat Deering, Michael D’Arcy, Seán Kyne and Andrew Doyle. That came on the back of the likes of Noel Harrington and Áine Collins losing their seats in 2016. They’ve also shed 100 councillors around the country since 2009.
Key decisions the current Government has made around farming have further alienated farmers.
The big losers from CAP were those with higher-value entitlements, historically higher output, historically Fine Gael’s farming base. Add in climate action targets, the curbing of dairy expansion and turf, and there’s something for everyone to feel aggrieved over.
In tandem with the conference, the party’s agriculture committee is being reconstituted. In existence for over a decade, it was set up as an ad-hoc group and has remained so – until now.
Two delegates are being nominated from each of the 39 constituencies. I understand that even the Dublin constituencies will be represented – former Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) pig executive Ned Walsh will be there for Dublin West, for instance.
The first job for the new committee will be to elect officers. There are two nominations for the chair – the aforementioned Pat Deering and former IFA president Eddie Downey.
It’s hard to predict the outcome of an election when you don’t know who the voters will be and a lot of the canvassing will have to be last-minute.
Interestingly, one of the speakers at the event is Pat Smith, in his capacity as CEO of solar energy company Local Power.
It is the most public engagement the two Meathmen will share since their departure from the IFA’s leadership six years ago.
Other panellists and speakers include Glanbia CEO Jim Bergin, agri economist Thia Hennessy, Richard Clinton of Dawn Meats and Martina Calvey of Achill Mountain Lamb.
Maria Walsh, the MEP and recent Green Cert graduate, will interview party leader Leo Varadkar on farming matters, while Simon Coveney will discuss the fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine with Kilkenny county councillor Fidelis Doherty.
It’s an interesting departure and the other parties fighting for the rural vote are sure to be watching with interest.