The changing role of the Minister of Agriculture since Ireland joined the European Economic Community.
When Ireland formally joined the European Economic Community (EEC) nine years ago, everything changed. Membership of the EEC came with the promise of access to a massive European market and higher prices. As such, very few farmers opposed entry to the community. Most decisions in relation to farming and agriculture are now made in Brussels.
We were all now Europeans.
In 1975, Dublin hosted Ireland's first meeting of the European agriculture ministers. At the time, Minister for Agriculture Mark Clinton had added stature among Irish farmers due to improvements in the price of milk. In the early days of EEC membership, farmers saw the Minister of Agriculture as a broker acting in their best interests in Brussels.
Minister of Agriculture Mark Clinton (1973-1977) explains how the system works and how this has affected his role.
We can give nothing without first submitting our proposals to the commission.
Mark Clinton believes that EEC membership has led to better relations between his office and farming organisations in that they are now working together rather than fighting. Throughout the 1970s, the relationship between farmers and the minister remained largely friendly with Irish farmers realising their best ever standard of living.
When the change of government happened in 1977, farmers believed that this would represent no real change in agricultural policy. Jim Gibbons became the new Minister of Agriculture and would continue the work of Mark Clinton. The first two years of the new Fianna Fáil government saw the peak in farmer prosperity. However, as the 1970s progressed, farmer prosperity began to slip. Minister Jim Gibbons delivered a message to farmers outlining the need for greater productivity.
In 1979, Ray MacSharry took over the agriculture portfolio at a time when the gloss was beginning to vanish. By 1980, the government and farmers were admitting that things had changed considerably.
Irish agriculture was now in deep trouble.
It was not just farming but the economy as a whole that was in difficulty. Ray MacSharry also had to deal with a growing demand for reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) by some of the larger member states in the EEC.
Alan Dukes took over the role as minister in the summer of 1981.
This episode of 'Landmark' was broadcast on 19 November 1981. The reporter is Nicholas Coffey.