BYGONE DAYS: Provisions of agri bill are heavily criticised by UFU branch

A special meeting of the Coleraine branch of the Ulster Farmers’ Union had been held in the Cafe Hall during this week in August 1920 at which the Agriculture Bill which was making its progress through the House of Commons was discussed in detail.

Ms J Johnston and the Farmview crew interview Mr Maher at McGarvey's farm, Cranagh, Co Tyrone in the 1980s. Picture: Farming Life archives
Ms J Johnston and the Farmview crew interview Mr Maher at McGarvey's farm, Cranagh, Co Tyrone in the 1980s. Picture: Farming Life archives

Mr William Jackson, the branch president, explained the provisions of the Agriculture Bill, which he said were “very unsatisfactory as applied to Ireland”.

He said the bill had already passed the second reading, and he presumed would come up for a third reading in the coming autumn.

He said: “If we wish to take action, now is the time to bring strong pressure to bear.”

Pictured at the RUAS Balmoral Show in the 1980s is the winner of class 16 and champion yearling gelding Mr Gibson's Just William. Picture: Farming Life archives

Speaking of his visit to the House of Commons for three days during the committee stage of the bill, he referred to important amendments which the representatives of the Farmers’ Union had been instrumental in having introduced.

Mr Jackson said that he had it on fairly good authority that when the bill came back to the House an effort would be made to have these amendments rescinded.

He remarked: “There are larger questions behind this. The bill only deals with prices for wheat and oats in Ireland. Wheat as a commercial quantity is non-existent so far as Ireland is concerned, and that reduced any benefit we are to receive from oats alone. Would we have sufficient recoupment from oats to warrant their support of the bill and have government control and all that nuisance with regard to tillage inspection, etc.?”

He remarked: “In my opinion the game was not worth the candle, in spite of what our member, the vice-president of the department, said about it being a boon to Ireland.”

Pictured during the 1980s at the RUAS Balmoral Show is the Honourable Mrs A L McCoubry with her champion thoroughbred mare and foal. Picture: Farming Life archives

Mr Jackson added: “It will only stultify the farmers if other farm produce was not introduced.” In his candid opinion it would be better if the bill was “withdrawn so far as Ireland was concerned and an amending bill for Ireland introduced”.

There then followed a series of exchanges by members of the branch on the merits of the bill.

Mr H O’H O’Neill, JP, remarked that Ireland would be “saddled with the Bill for oats alone”. To which the chairman of added: “And be compelled to do certain tillage and submit to inspection.”

Mr S S Young, JP, criticised the action of the government for “not dealing with each country and its products on its merits”.

Martin Gill and Raymond pictured at a ploughing match organised by Newtownards YFC in the late 20th century. Picture: Farming Life archives

In response to Mr Young’s point the chairman of the Coleraine UFU branch remarked: “The greater portion of the bill deals with security of tenure for England and Scotland. In Ireland we have security. England and Scotland came nearer in respect of agricultural products than Ireland. I think its a mistake on the part of the government bringing in a compound bill for Great Britain and Ireland.”

The Reverend R Moore noted that if the bill was withdrawn “in its present form as it applied to Ireland the farmers would have to fight the whole question of an amending bill themselves”.

To this a voice in the audience declared: “Oats are the only product that we are to receive any benefit from, a commodity which the Irish farmer consumes mostly at home.”

Mr Young moved the following resolution: “That in view of the fact that Ireland is not a wheat growing country and the oat crop is under modern conditions either entirely or very largely consumed on the farm, the terms of the present Agriculture Bill are quite inadequate for safeguarding the position of the Irish farmer. We, therefore demand that the Government take steps to guarantee adequate minimum prices for potatoes, flax, and barley, as these are the mainstay of Ulster farming at the present time, and only through these can a financial position to both farmers and labourers be assured. Failing this we demand that Ireland be excluded altogether from the Bill.”

The Reverend J R Mooney seconded the motion.

Mr John Morrow, JP, suggested that they include in the resolution the question of the dairying industry. He said: “There is going to be a serious shortage in this respect, and there is a good deal of money sunk in the industry.”

To which the chairman said that he held that the point “should not be pressed”. He commented: “If we get what we have asked for or anything near it we would not fare so badly.”

The Rev R Moore commented: “The government practically controls the dairying industry as it is.”

To which Mr Young added: “If the government doesn’t recompense the farmer they will not continue to produce crops. They will let the land go back to grass.”

The branch chairman added: “If the bill is passed in its present form you will be compelled to cultivate the land whether you wish it or not.”

To which Mr Morrow added: “Well, the government may take it that they will find it difficult to make the Irish farmer do anything that does not pay him.

After further discussion, Mr Morrow said he would not press his suggestion, and the resolution was put to the meeting and passed unanimously.