The Lead up to Joining the EEC

Between 1961 and 1971 the number employed in Ireland’s agriculture and forestry fell by more than one quarter, and the pattern in other european countries indicated that this process would probaly continue. Although the EEC would reduce Ireland’s dependence on the UK market, and it promised substantially higher prices for farm produce, it would not resolve the long-term problems of structural adjustment and declining workforce in Irish farming. In December 1968 the EEC published the Mansholt Plan, which set out the long term programme for structural reform. The plan anticipated that 5 million people throughout the EEC would leave farming during the 1970s. EEC membership therefore presented a major challenge to the Department of Agriculture and to Irish farming, not least the need to bring about transformation of Irish agriculture that would be acceptable to Irish farmers and the wider community. In the early 1960s Britain and the EEC accounted for two-thirds of the world import of dairy products; three-quaters of world meat imports; one-third of sugar imports; and half of the world’s commercial imports of wheat. The Department of Agriculture believed that the best option for Ireland was to attach itself to ‘one of the price supported blocks’ – EEC or Britain; in order to achieve this, Ireland should be prepared to reduce tarriffs on manufactured goods in return for market concessions for agricultural produce. On the 21 January 1963, within days of de Gaulle’s veto on Britain’s membership, the committee of secretaries recommended that Ireland should explore the prospect of securing an Anglo Irish trade agreement.

Ireland had already failed to secure this type of agreement in 1959/60 and the prospects of an agreement on this occasion appeared even less promising. Bilateral trade talks between Denmark and Britain on the 13th March of 1963, removed the 15s per cwt duty that it had on its butter on account of it being a member of the European Free Trade Association(EFTA). This was a shock to Sean Lemass(Taoiseach) and Frank Aiken(Minister of External Affairs), who had a pre-arranged meeting five days later for special treatment of Irish Butter and Meat. Britain claimed that although it gave equal adavantage to Denmark, that the position would be controlled by quotas. Nagle of the Dept of Agricultural noted sometime  afterwards, that Ireland’s agricultural exports had deteriorated considerably, while Britain retained all its existing advantages in the Irish market. Denmark ended up getting quite a good quota for its butter. Later in the year Britain removed all import duties on butter irrespective of the country of origin. However, after three years negotiations an Anglo-Irish Free Trade Area agreement was signed between the two countries. Charles Haughey the then Minister for Agriculture adressed the Dail on 5 January 1966 and noted that prior to the agreement Ireland was in:

….. a very vulnerable position in respect of one of our most important

forms of economic activity – our agricultural exports …. the truth of

the matter is that during the past decade or so our Irish agricultural

production has been carried on under the shade of disorganised and

uncertain export markets.

.  The agreement according to Professor  Daly, was a triumph for Irish persistence over Britsih indifference. In Ireland the agreement was widely condemmed, ending Irish economic independence. Liam Cosgrave of Fine Gael, described it as an unbalanced agreement: ‘in return for limited and doubtful agricultuural gains virtually the entire Irish market for manufactured goods would be exposed to high powered competition from British Industry’.

In May 1966 Charles Haughey commissioned a study on introducing a ‘two tier milk price’. Lieutenant General M.J. Costello; E.A. Atwood, an economist attached to the Agricultural Research Institute; A.J. O’Reilly, the managring director of An Bord Bainne; Paddy O’Keeffe editor of the Irish Farmers Journal and J.J. Scully the Department officer in charge of western development, who were appointed to it reported back: ‘that the disadvantages of a two-tier milk price outweighed the advantages. If the governmeent wished to provide special assistance to small farmers, they recommended that it should be done through a bonus incentive scheme for low-income farmers who drew up a farm development plan. This plan would apply to all farm enterprises. To qualify, a dairy farmer would have to produce a plan showing that he/she was in a position to raise his output to at least 7000 gallons of quality milk’. A small farm incentive bonus scheme was introduced two years later based on the ideas that the commission put forward. However, a two-tier milk price was also introduced in the same year – giving suppliers of up to 7,000 gallons an extra one penny per gallon. This was one of the main aims of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA), whereas the IFA(NFA) were totally opposed to it 

By the late 60s’ the UK and the US were main countries for export of beef and Continental Europe exports had almost disappeared.  In April 1968 the Agricultural Adjustment Unit at the University of Newcastle-on-Tyne organised a conference on ‘Irish Agriculture in a Changing World’. In a postscript to a book of the same name, which contained the conference papers, the editors, I.F. Baillie and Dr. Seamus Sheehy remarked:

As speaker succeeded speaker a sense of gloom and pessimism seemed to settle over the conference. While inevitability of change and the need for readjustment were accepted, there was a feeling of helplessness. Ireland appeared to be trapped by remorseless economic and social pressures from within and without, and little hope was seen of changing the direction of existing policies or of influencing the formulation of new policies’.

By 1970 Britain was on the economic war path once more – bending to pressure from Denmark, New Zealnd and their own farmers. Again after lengthy arguments with the Irish Government, they announced that they were introducing a variable import levies on imports of cattle, beef, mutton, lamb and milk products other than butter and cheese which were already controlled by quota; even though it was pointed out to them that ‘the deficit in the Irish trade balance with Britain had been increasing for several years, which suggested that Britain had been the main beneficiary from the 1965 trade agreement’. Obviously, the principle of self-sufficiency laid-down in the Agriculture Act 1947, was still the guiding principle for the United Kingdom government. The Act continued to give tremendous protection to its own farmers increased production, while getting non British countries support a cheap food policy for its citizens. By 1970 Irish government price subsidies of dairy products had increased to £30.5 million from £4.7 million in 1960/1.

Between 1960 and 1968 family farm income rose by 52 per cent, the number of family farms fell by 17 per cent. The Annual Report of the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries in 1973/74 remarked that:

Over the past decade agricultural production had tended to become more specialised, both at the industry level with the growing concentration on cattle and milk and at individual farm enterprise. This is part of the general move towards a commercial system of agricultural production. It is evident that the development of more intensive farm enterprises will proceed further in the coming years.

Until Ireland joined the EEC in January 1973, agricultural policy was formulated exclusively by the government on the advice of the Minsister of Agriculture and his Department. Of course policy decisions had to take account conditions in the major markets, particularly the United Kingdom. Farm organisations also gained extra influence over agricultural policy since the previous decade.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.