THERE were almost as many scrums at the National Ploughing Championships in Ratheniska yesterday as there were during a game at the Rugby World Cup.
Politicians of all parties lined up to deliver their messages to the public on the pathways and in the media centre.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny, flanked by ministers Simon Coveney and Alan Kelly, and ministers of state Ann Phelan and Tom Hayes were out at 8am to announce a €30m investment package for rural towns and villages.
Technically, it was more formal than a scrum as they sat behind a table with multiple microphones beside National Ploughing Association managing director Anna May McHugh.
Mr Kenny hailed the importance of the ploughing championships, describing it as a showcase of modern Ireland. He and his colleagues faced two rows of hacks and camera crews, some wearing their accreditations like religious scapulars dangling from their necks.
A more traditional scrum followed with Mr Coveney taking questions from reporters while standing in the middle of the media centre.
“Irish agriculture is vibrant. It is growing and it is a new generation of farmer. We have more young people in agricultural colleges now than we have had ever before in the past,” the agriculture minister said.
“Yes, there are some income challenges and we need to address them together and my job is to do that in a very focused way. But nobody should suggest that agriculture is not moving in the right direction because on the whole it is.”
Mr Coveney said there would always be some elements within the farming sector under pressure. This year the pressure is very much on dairying incomes and pigmeat, and, to a certain extent, grain. Last year it was beef. “My job is to respond to that and support sectors through difficult temporary periods which is what we have at the moment,” he said.
As he was outlining the supports for farmers, the Taoiseach was out in the grounds meeting people, but one disappointed news cameraman returned to the media centre, muttering that it was one of the dullest walkabouts he had ever been on.
“There wasn’t even an egg thrown,” he said — a remark later analysed by those who thrive on predicting the dates of general election. Was it too early in the day for the early visitors to raise contentious issues or was it a sign that they are in a happier place of late?
Tánaiste Joan Burton, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, and Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams were also out and about testing the mood of the electorate.
The French government honoured Ms McHugh of the National Ploughing Association, in recognition of her contribution to agriculture. Ambassador Jean Paul Thebault presented her with the Ordre du Merite Agricole at a reception in France’s agriculture pavilion.
Easter 1916 was also marked, with Environment Minister Alan Kelly and Heritage Minister Heather Humphreys announcing an initiative in collaboration with the Tree Council of Ireland. It is part of the Ireland 1916 Centenary Programme. All villages, towns, and cities that have won the overall Tidy Towns award since the competition’s inception in 1958 will be awarded seven Sessile Oak trees to represent the seven signatories to the Proclamation.
Mr Kelly, with junior minister Ann Phelan, also launched a €28m programme to tackle long-term unemployment and social exclusion through local engagement and partnerships.
The partnership between Irish Aid, the Government’s programme for overseas development, and Teagasc, the national body providing integrated research, advisory, and training services to the agriculture and food industry, was praised by Sean Sherlock, the junior foreign affairs minister.
“Ireland is a long-standing advocate of using cutting edge agricultural research and development to support farmers in some of the world’s most challenging environments to increase their yields and the quality of their crops,” he said.
People travelled to the championships from many parts of the world, but the most unusual journey of all was undertaken by a trophy — the Liam McCarthy Cup. It was in the Glens of Antrim the day before the ploughing started at Ratheniska, but it was on the Glanbia stand in time for the opening. It was brought from one end of the country to the other by Denis “Rackard” Coady, who takes good care of the prized cup during its many stays in Kilkenny.
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