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Lively debate between European election candidates at AGM of southern AgriGuild

The Guild of Agricultural Journalists – southern section held its annual general meeting (AGM) at The Heritage Killenard, Co. Laois on May 20, 2023 which included a lively debate between some European elections candidates.

Agriguild president Matt O’Keeffe moderated the panel discussion which included former general secretary of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA), Eddie Punch who was running on behalf of Independent Ireland; Green Party senator Pauline O’Reilly; and Fianna Fáil MEP, Billy Kelleher.

Barry Cowen, Fianna Fáil TD for Laois-Offaly was invited to attend, however unfortunately he cancelled on the day.

The three candidates all gave their views on generational renewal and the impact of climate change, and outlined their priorities should they be elected to the European Parliament.

MEP Billy Kelleher said he wanted to ensure live exports from Ireland continue and that Ireland maintains access to the single market. He suggested that there should be more financing options for medium-sized and small enterprises and the agricultural sector.

Kelleher said: “I don’t believe Irish banks are lending in the way that they should be to the agricultural sector in general.”

Kelleher said he would also like to work on the Industrial Emissions Directive and other legislation that is “putting environmental obligations” on farmers.

Senator Pauline O’Reilly said she feels that Green Party members should be attending any event organised across the country where rural life or agriculture are being discussed.

She said: “It’s dishonest to point the finger at people who care about the environment, because my experience coming from a farming background is that farmers care every bit as much about nature as everybody else. And I also think that Greens and environmentalists care every bit as much about rural Ireland as everybody else.”

Eddie Punch contributed to the discussion by stating that Irish farmers and rural communities are “tired” of being dictated to by policy.

He said: “People on the ground are tired of being told what to think, what to eat, where to go and what to drive.”

Punch said that people across the country are “tired” of having carbon tax imposed on diesel cars when they have no alternative.

Punch also explained that farmers are finding it hard to plan or invest financially with some uncertainty over Ireland’s nitrates derogation, which is making farm profitability and sustainability very challenging.

The successful event concluded with lunch for members and guests at the Heritage Hotel.

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