From a very young age, Anne Mitchell had to work on the family farm to help her brother support the family. Her father had been suffering from cancer for the last 4-5 years and died when she was only eight years old. The whole family had to pull together to keep the farm afloat.
Being born in a small farming family based in Roscommon, she had seen her parents working hard on the fields. It was only natural she would end up working in the sector. It’s in her blood and hardwired into her DNA.
In February 2018, she was elected the first woman chairperson of the Irish Farmers Association (IFA) Galway. She comfortably defeated her two opponents and became a leader in a sector traditionally dominated by men.
“I was approached by some people and they asked if I am interested in contesting the election and I agreed for it. I just wanted to do my best and let the people choose,” she recalls.
Joining the Department of Agriculture
Hard work and hardship made her a farmer from a young age but the love of the work meant she was always destined to remain in the sector.
“After finishing school, I joined the Department of agriculture as a clerk in 1971 and that kept me in touch with the official farming side of agriculture and I was already aware with the farmer’s side being a part of it,” she says.
Becoming the first married Civil Servant
Used to breaking barriers, Anne has the distinction of making her own little bit of history not once, but twice. The Irish State had barred women from continuing in the workplace after marriage in 1932. The so-called marriage bar was lifted in 1973 and gave Anne the opportunity to create another piece of history.
“I met my husband John Joe Mitchell who was also working for the Department of Agriculture in 1971. He belonged to a farming family as well and owned a small farm.”
“We got married in August 1973 and the marriage ban was lifted just one week before I got married. This made me the first married woman civil servant of Ireland and I continued my job for the next 43 years,” she says.
It was not easy but I got support
Being a mother and a working professional at the same time has always been a struggle for women. When asked about motherhood Anne smiles.
“When I had my first child (son) in 1975, we only had 12 weeks of paternity leaves. But I continued my work after giving birth. My mother-in-law took care of the child while I was at work. I had less time to take care of my child but I managed.”
“Then I had my second child (daughter) after seven years and we were able to afford a nanny. I would not say it was easy but I got support from my family and that is what made me fulfill all my duties and responsibilities together,” she says.
Always been a caregiver
In 2016, she joined the Galway Hospice as a care worker and has also worked as secretary of Galway’s older people’s council for two years. Like farming, caring is something that is in her bloody after losing her father at such a young age.
“I have grown up as a caregiver in a family where four people died due to cancer. My father, mother, brother-in-law, and husband, they all died of the same disease. I had to take care of them during their sickness so I know how important this task is.”
“When my friend mentioned about daycare and care worker I willingly joined it. Daycares got closed due to covid, so now I do ‘In lunch with the patients’ once a week,” she says.
Talking about her experience as the campaign manager for IFA President Joe Healy in 2016, Anne remembers the time as a particularly “intense” period.
“That was a very intense job. We had to do canvassing all over Ireland and I had to organize everything. That role gave me exposure to public meetings and people started to know me”.
“I had to work 16 to 17 hours a day. That experience helped me during my canvassing as well. People had started to know my name at that time, so when I stood for the election they were already aware of who I was,” she says.
Being the IFA chairperson
Anne has always been a farmer and understands the problems faced by the farmers here:
“The three main policies that are bothering us are the Common Agriculture policies (CAP), Areas of Natural Constraints (ANC) and Carbon Emission reduction guidelines.”
“These policies are affecting the income of farmers which would lead them to think of leaving farming practices and find other options to earn a living. This is something that should concern the government.”
When asked about her achievements as chairperson of the IFA in Galway, Anne says her biggest achievement “is that I have been able to help everyone who has come to me asking for it”.
Anne stepped down from the role in February but plans to continue as a member of the association.
“No mistake should be made as this is a critical time for the future of farming not only for the west of Ireland but for all across the country.”
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