CHARLIE McConalogue is dressed suitably for the canvass of a mart – a smart shirt and jacket, and a pair of green wellies from the boot of his Honda.
It’s a bright, chilly, Wednesday, and the cattle auction is in full swing in Milford mart. Attentive farmers hang over the concrete wall, watching as cattle are briskly herded in and out of the parade ring while others gather around the holding pens to the rear of the mart.
Brought up on a suckler farm near Carndonagh, Charlie feels at home among the farming community.
“I ran the family farm for a while after I came back from Dublin and before I was elected to the Dáil. My brother runs the farm now but I’ve still a great interest,” he said.
“Are you buying?” was the opening greeting among the men as they watch the cattle but the Fianna Fáil candidate is in the market for votes, rather than for livestock.
He is flanked by Fianna Fáil County Councillors Liam Blaney and James Pat McDaid and local party stalwart Jimmy Friel from The Lagg.
First stop is the mart cafe and Charlie slowly works his way around the room. There are leisurely chats about the day’s going price for cattle and various issues are being aired as he stops to shake hands.
Potholes in our roads, the health system and the price of milk are some of the issues farmers will be focusing on in General Election 2016 together with the possible closure of the community nursing unit in nearby Ramelton.
“It’s a big local issue. The nursing unit is a big employer in Ramelton and it would be a huge loss to the local community if it was down-graded or, worse still, closed,” Charlie Curran from Ramelton said.
Seamus Dorrian, who lives in Rosnakill, said that he would be giving Charlie his number one.
“If there’s anything you need or if you have a problem he’ll do his level best to help sort it out. He’s a fine man,” he said.
Brendan McLaughlin from Balleighan, outside Manorcunningham, is an award winning suckler and sheep farmer. Voted the top REPS farmer in the country back in 2001, Mr McLaughlin is highly critical of the current government.
“They’ve just looked after their own and forgot about the rest of us. It’s a case of jobs for the boys and to hell with the small, rural farmers. They’re not at the races and certainly haven’t helped farmers in Donegal,” he claimed.
There’s even time for a bit of good-humoured slagging from some of the farmers who wanted to know what the candidate would do for the area.
“Farming has been struggling these last few years in Donegal, particularly the suckler cow sector, and a lot of farmers are getting out of the industry. That problem needs to be addressed. Our commitment is to bring in a €200 payment per suckler which is critical in areas like Milford, Fanad and Inishowen which are dependent on suckling as, gradually, the suckler herd is being reduced and that is having an impact on mart numbers.
“Another key issue is the Farm Assist Payment which is paid to low income farmers. There are 1,500 such farming families in Donegal. When the present government went into power there was a 70 per cent earning assessment, which meant that the other 30 per cent was disregarded. However, over the last three to four years that has all changed and now one hundred per cent of what’s earned today is assessed. That removes the incentive to work and be productive. It’s both unfair and unjust.
“More and more farming families are having to work outside the farm but farming remains a key anchor of the local economy in Donegal,” he said.
He also wants to tackle the problem of rural isolation while health and public transport are among other issues that need to be addressed once the next government is elected.
It’s Day 14 of the General Election campaign, and Charlie McConalogue is soon back out on the beat canvassing people for their vote.
“It’s been exceptionally busy. Sure look at that,” he says pointing to the raw knuckles on his right hand.
“That’s simply from shaking hands. They’re not as strong as they used to be,” he laughed.
At that point, John Stewart, Mart Manager, offers his hand and thanks Charlie for calling down to the mart.
“We even laid on the good weather for you,” he quipped.
With that, Charlie, Liam and James Pat make good their escape where, no doubt, there will be plenty more hands to shake between now and polling day.
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