ICSA general secretary Eddie Punch has expressed frustration that agriculture was left out of the two pre-election debates on RTE television last week. ‘None of the party leaders put any emphasis on agriculture, or even the wider agri-food sector. Farmers will feel very disappointed that it hardly merited a mention from any of the six party leaders.’ ‘While much of the discussions understandably dwelt on issues such as health and crime, the sustainability of the agri-food sector will have a strong bearing on the economy. In recent years, we have tended to forget about our most important indigenous industry based on a renewable natural resource mainly because so much economic development has been linked to construction growth and foreign direct investment. It would be foolhardy to anticipate that this will continue unabated. Construction will slow and other countries, especially in Eastern Europe will compete aggressively for foreign direct investment. EU plans to harmonise taxes have ominous implications for further multi-national investment here.’ ‘Therefore,’ continued Mr Punch, ‘a lot more emphasis should be put on the development of the agri-food sector and Ireland must capitalise on the clean, green image. The agri-food sector accounts for almost nine percent of GDP but is actually much more important than that because it has such a low import content, is very export oriented and agri-food jobs are spread very evenly across the country.’ ‘Concern about the future of this sector should be higher on the priorities of election candidates and should not be ignored in important debates,’ he concluded.