The Power of Protest

As a final year student, I am currently writing my dissertation. The topic I chose to explore was Public Relations and Lobbying within the agriculture industry, as the recent news topics sparked my interest as a farmer’s daughter.

 

2015 saw the farming income for Northern Ireland fall from £311.8m to £182.5m, which was largely due to supermarkets and processors driving down farm produce prices. This was not an issue just within Northern Ireland, but throughout the whole of the UK.

 

So to understand why this campaign matters so much to farmers, I will explain the complex system (for myself if nothing else). Dairy farmers milk their cows twice or three times a day 365 days a year, which is collected by a milk tanker (nearly every day) to be taken to the processors where it will be pasteurised for human consumption. The majority of dairy farmers are locked into a contract with these processors and unable to leave. Combining the facts that supermarkets and processors are cutting the prices of milk and the inflation of the prices of fuel, feed and production, farmers are struggling to keep their farms afloat. They can’t stop feeding their cows or harvesting crops as (1) it is cruelty to animals and (2) a farmer’s actions will have a long term effect in how they can run their farm in the future.

Power of protests

Discouraged by this, farmers took to protesting, which sparked the biggest grassroots campaign the farming industry had seen in recent years; partly funded by the Scottish Government who contributed £100,000. This campaign achieved national media coverage and saw the issue fought through social media, peaceful protests and farming coalitions who communicated on behalf of the farmers.

 

SOS Dairy harnessed the full power of the Internet through using Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to bring the farmers together and to share the issue with the general public. More than 800 individuals added the SOS Dairy ribbon to their profile photos on Twitter, with hundreds more showing the same support on Facebook and using the #SOSDairy hashtag. During this campaign a video called ‘The #SOSdairy song,’ made up of protest footage, became an Internet hit, gaining over 38,000 hits on YouTube. Through the videos’ popularity, the BBC approached the creator to request he preform it on the radio- enabling them to promote the cause further.

To demonstrate a united industry, the issue saw farm groups set aside their differences to form a coalition between NFU Scotland, NFU Cymru, the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers, Tenant Farmers Association and the Women’s Food and Farming Union. It also brought together those who relied on the farming community such as farming suppliers, vets and lawyers all over the country. Whilst leaders of the coalitions held talks with the processors and supermarkets to achieve fair prices, the farmers named and shamed the milk processors and supermarkets while carrying out protests throughout the country by obstructing processing plants night after night, to show their strength.

 

Through this campaign major supermarkets backed down by announcing fairer prices for farmers who directly supplied the supermarkets, and processors eventually backed down and in result abandoned their second price cut. A poll carried out by YouGov and The Grocer found that 83% of the public were aware of the protests and 67% stated they think farmers should be paid more, even if it increases the price of milk.

 

Although this campaign achieved what it set out to do, capturing the public interest and winning the support of the consumer, there is still a long way to go for the industry in order to create a sustainable industry where farmers will profit.

 

Lauren Sharkey is a 4th year CAM student at Ulster University. She can be contacted on Twitter @lsharkey_37 or on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/lauren-sharkey-25776ab0/.

Since my last political post faired out so well, I have decided to continue to include my own opinion on the going-on’s in Northern Ireland’s ever-changing political landscape.

If Facebook was invented during the Troubles, I can only imagine that the war would have been fought with a keyboard instead of with guns. As social media has grew in popularity, a steady decline of humility and feeling has occurred. This negative correlation showed itself to me firstly when Margaret Thatcher died, as thousands flooded my timeline to show their courtesy – yet simultaneous disrespect – to her death.

However, on 21/03/2017, I was genuinely shocked to come on to Facebook and Twitter, and see so many disgusting comments at the death of Martin McGuinness. A man without whom Northern Ireland would still be very much stuck in the 1980’s.

As Margaret Thatcher is the only person who comes to mind when trying to compare the two political giants’ deaths, I must remind you of the background of each character.

Baroness Thatcher came from a well-to-do family and grew up in a quiet market town in Lincolnshire. Martin McGuinness was raised in the Bogside of Derry City, which to those who haven’t studied an ounce of NI history (half of my Facebook timeline), was a highly deprived area where Catholics were discriminated against at the electoral polls and at the housing executive. He left school at the age of 15 and without the right education behind him to express his anger at the British Government through speech, he delved into the violence that was rife at that time throughout NI.

I found this tweet sums up a great deal of Martin McGuinness’ early years.

 

This is not a post to make excuses for McGuinness’ early years, when he was obviously under the influence of the romanticised Irish patriots of the 20th century, but instead a post to commemorate his final 20 years where he pushed for change for Northern Ireland.

The progress he made throughout his political career is unparalleled – being the chief negotiator for Sinn Fein and Irish republicans through the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, and staying with the power sharing Executive throughout its 19 year period. He too had to make compromises when dealing with the opposition who he fought with violence so vehemently just years previously. His warm and witty personality caught the attention of US President Bill Clinton, who spoke at his funeral.

The most poignant part of Clinton’s speech was when he mentioned Nelson Mandela. The South-African freedom fighter has come to epitomise peace and revolution – despite being involved in similar militant tactics as a young man. Clinton said that in a conversation with Mandela, Mandela told his people “if I can get over ‘it’ you can too, we have got to build a future”, which is exactly the attitude Martin McGuinness had when realising that until republicans and loyalist sides learned to move forward together, they wouldn’t move at all.

 

Queen Elizabeth II shakes hands with Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinnesswatched by First minister Peter Robinson (centre) at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast. Photograph: PA
McGuinness shaking Queen Elizabeth II’s hand. “If I can get over it, you can too. We have got to build a future.” – Nelson Mandela

 

If the Queen can shake Martin McGuinness’ hand although he was head of the IRA when her cousin Mountbatten was murdered by them – then surely everyone can pay respect to him (or perhaps not react at all), because after all he is a human being.

It is easy to judge someone when you only see them in black and white. But when I think of Martin McGuinness, his past reflects a rainbow of triumphs and turbulence.

Martin McGuinness “expanded the definition of ‘us’, and shrunk the definition of ‘them”

– Bill Clinton.

Image result for martin mcguinness funeral

 

Shannon Quinn is a 2nd year CAM student at Ulster University. She can be contacted on LinkedIn at https://uk.linkedin.com/in/shannon-quinn-556236132 and on Twitter @ShannonQuinnPR.