THE true extent of the fodder crisis and the resulting financial stress for farmers, has not yet been seen.
That was the message from ICSA rural development chairman Seamus Sherlock, who spoke at a meeting on rural isolation in Skibbereen last week.
He said that this year’s winter was the worst for farmers in his lifetime, and that it would have a knock-on effect for months yet.
‘I am getting calls now from farmers, many who have no money left to buy feed,’ he said, adding that a lot of the credit union and bank loans have now run out, and the next month will be the real test for many.
Mr Sherlock had been invited to speak at a meeting on rural isolation organised by Lisheens House suicide prevention charity and An Garda Síochána, which was held in the West Cork Hotel last Thursday night.
Other speakers included Clare-based Garda Edel Burke who has been travelling around the country addressing similar meetings, and encouraging the farming community to become more connected.
Mr Sherlock made headlines in 2012 when he was threatened with eviction from his Co Limerick farm.
After a high-profile campaign, which saw hundreds of supporters stand at his farm gate while he barricaded himself and his five children inside, the bank eventually agreed – after 18 months – to restructure his debt.
But, he said, the fact that a lot of Irish loans had now been sold to vulture funds in recent months, many linked to the farming sector, meant a lot more trouble was coming down the tracks for Irish farm families.
‘If you think a bank is bad, that is peanuts compared to what is coming down the line with these guys. I have met some of these fund managers, and they have no interest in family, or the family home, it’s all numbers to them.’
He said we could no longer ‘stand by and see them put half the country out onto the roads’.
‘They really are vultures. This country has to wake up. People are really struggling,’ he told the packed meeting.
And he urged neighbours to just say ‘hello’ to each other more. He said that, as a result of his own high profile case, he now gets up to 50 calls a week from farmers with financial problems.
‘I have men crying on the phone telling me that they are useless or worthless. I tell them nobody is a failure, it is the system that is failing them. But I think 99% of people are in better humour after the phone calls. They just want people to understand.’
Lisheens House, founded by Noreen Murphy, who herself suffered personal tragedy when her husband took his own life, is launching a campaign to tackle rural isolation, this autumn.
It will include ‘friendly phone calls’ and support meetings for those feeling isolated or alone.
This week Cork South West TD Michael Collins said he had raised the matter of AIB selling loans to vulture funds and was told by Finance Minister Pascal Donohoe that it was a ‘matter for the board of AIB.’
And on Wednesday, Cork North West FF TD Michael Moynihan also commented on the matter, saying: ‘Ultimately, each of the banks can make their own decision as to who they sell their loan books to. However, as AIB is 75% owned by the Irish taxpayer, the board must inform the Minister for Finance on sales of this nature.’
He added: ‘AIB should not be selling loans to vulture funds and should instead be working through these loans including the ones in significant difficulties. A Fianna Fáil bill is being pushed to ensure that even if loans are sold to these funds, the homeowner will still be protected, but it shouldn’t have to come to this.’