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Far-right piggybacking on Irish farmers’ demonstrations

Farmers’ grievances ‘are not cudgels to be picked up and used by people who might have other, much wider agendas’, says head of Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association

When the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) announced it was holding a national tractor demonstration across the country on Thursday night to show “solidarity” with their European counterparts, it hadn’t counted on a far-right fringe element piggybacking on the event, with a group surrounding and heckling Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue until a Garda presence arrived.

Unlike their French counterparts, the IFA had no plan to cover public buildings in slurry or milk, or even to hold up traffic. It was simply going to be a show of force that was most likely part of a political tactic by newly elected association president Francie Gorman in advance of upcoming local and European elections.

Unwittingly, however, the IFA left a door open for well-known members of the far right in Ireland who took to Facebook, X, Instagram and TikTok to fan the flames of farmer frustration. About 100 far-right followers surrounded the Athlone Springs Hotel where McConalogue had been attending the AGM of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA).

After spending almost two hours answering the questions of members of the ICSA, the Minister was surrounded, heckled and cursed at aggressively by a smaller group of people who had been waiting outside. The Minister was eventually able to leave when other people in the hotel blocked the hecklers from following him. However, the splinter group remained until a Garda presence appeared.


“We were jammed in,” one farmer who was at the AGM told The Irish Times.The scene was filmed and has been shared widely across social media by members of the far right who claim that it demonstrated farmers “fighting back” against the Minister but the original 110 farmers at the meeting hadn’t known anything about it.

The role of the far right in European protests has been coming under increasing scrutiny. In Germany, the largest farmers organisation, the Deutscher Bauernverband (DBV), has sought to distance itself from extremist elements piggybacking on their protests and individual farmers have started using banners stating: “Agriculture is colourful, not brown” in a reference to Hitler’s “brown shirts”.

Eddie Punch, who has been the general secretary of the ICSA for 20 years and who witnessed his organisation’s AGM being picketed on Thursday night, said the situation would play into the hands of politicians.

“The problem with all this kind of stuff on the streets is that it gives the decision makers a get-out-of-jail card because it allows them to say that people or farmers are too disruptive to be dealing with,” he said.

He said farmers faced a “regulatory overload” from Brussels but pointed out that arguments were only won when they were based on science and facts.

“Protest is a complete waste of time unless you have the skill set to follow it up.”

His frustrations were shared by the president of Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA), dairy farmer Denis Drennan. He said the organisation would not allow itself to be “press-ganged” into a wider, incoherent anti-Government or anti-EU movement originating and driven from outside the farming community and wider rural sector.

“Obviously, others might have a different approach but as far as we’re concerned, the problems of farming are complex and demand a technical knowledge and long-term commitment. Our problems are a matter between us and the Government and [European] Commission, they are not cudgels to be picked up and used by people who might have other, much wider agendas,” he said.

However, this does not mean that all the 120,000 farmers in the country are immune to the call of the far right. Many of the individuals involved in the extremist politics have large social media followings, and their views are picked up and shared by some farmers online.

While traditional farm leaders attempt to keep their members focused on farm issues, the extent to which a more radical minority is influencing farmer opinion will be seen in local and European elections in June.

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