Lane, Patrick ('Paddy') (1934–2012), farm leader and politician, was born on 7 September 1934 in the family home at Parteen, Co. Clare, the only son among three children of Thomas Lane, farmer, and his wife Gertrude (née McCormack). A sports enthusiast, Paddy was a four-time Munster breaststroke champion and two-time winner of Munster polo championships as a youth, and played junior and senior cup rugby for his school, Crescent College, Limerick. Finishing secondary school in 1952, he entered the Military College, Curragh, Co. Kildare, and was commissioned a lieutenant in the 13th Battalion at Clonmel, Co. Tipperary, in 1954. After his father's death in 1955, he transferred to the army reserves and took over the 100-adjusted-acre dairy and store-cattle farm at Parteen. He married (1964) Carmel O'Connor, the daughter of a Limerick butcher. They had a daughter and two sons; the elder son was autistic, and the couple engaged in fund-raising for the disabled.
Lane played senior club rugby for Old Crescent from the mid 1950s and appeared some fifteen times for Munster (1958–65). A fast, powerfully built hooker, he was devastating in loose play, but his hooking was lacking at the highest level. His impressive display against New Zealand in December 1963 earned him an Irish cap against Wales the next spring. He was chosen in an untried front row, which was overwhelmed in a match that he later pronounced the roughest in which he ever played. Immediately dropped, he retired from rugby in 1965, initially devoting his spare time to golf and coaching local rugby teams.
Inheriting his father's prominence within the Limerick and Clare Milk Producers' Association, he joined the National Farmers' Association (NFA) in the late 1950s. He founded an NFA branch at Parteen in the early 1960s and became its representative on the Clare county executive before serving a two-year term on the national council (1964–6). Active in the farmers' rights protests of 1966–7, he was prosecuted for obstructing cattle deliveries to a factory at Rathkeale, Co. Limerick, in March 1967. He declined bail, and after spending three weeks in Limerick jail was acquitted in April of intimidation and fined £10 for obstruction. In late May he was returned to Limerick jail for fourteen days for refusing to pay the fine, and later unsuccessfully prosecuted the arresting officers for assault.
The NFA had been a staid lobby dominated by gentleman farmers, but the 1966–7 protests empowered and radicalised its membership, bringing militants like Lane to the fore. Championing the interests of his fellow large dairy farmers during a period of depressed milk prices and policies designed to limit milk production, he demanded more subsidies from a hard-pressed exchequer and was re-elected to the NFA's national council in 1968, also joining its national dairy committee. He was elected vice-president (representing Munster) in 1969, serving until 1974.
Lane's defeat by Donnie Cashman in 1972, when the two contested the deputy presidency of the renamed Irish Farmers' Association (IFA), initiated an intense rivalry between two men that personified the IFA's internal contradictions. The patrician Cashman was a big commercial farmer who favoured a partnership with government conducted mostly behind the scenes, whereas Lane, being of relatively modest means and also more rustic in appearance and manner, advocated open confrontation. His base in Clare, a western county comprised mainly of struggling store-cattle farmers, broadened his appeal beyond Munster's lush dairying zone.
The agricultural bonanza arising from Ireland's entry into the EEC in 1973 strengthened Cashman's hand, and his anticipated victory in the March 1974 deputy presidential election would have buried Lane's prospects. But after the election was declared void amid claims of voting irregularities, an acute store-cattle surplus that autumn caused small farmers' incomes to collapse. Lane organised a series of rallies and exploited a sense that the IFA had grown complacent to win the deputy presidency in November. As such, he was more vociferous than the IFA president, T. J. Maher (qv), in condemning the EEC's common agricultural policy (CAP) for neglecting smallholders.
Campaigning as the small farmers' candidate in the 1976 IFA presidential election, Lane defeated Cashman by sweeping the western seaboard, and assumed leadership of an organisation then emerging as Ireland's most powerful lobby by virtue of its expert staff and estimated 130,000 members. Lane's election reflected pressures to widen the IFA's effective governance beyond a clique of large farmers based near its Irish Farm Centre headquarters at Bluebell, Co. Dublin, and known as the 'Green Isle brigade' after the hotel where they convened. The IFA's reliance on voluntary labour meant the wealthier members dominated its collegiate power structures, limiting Lane's ability to help small farmers.
Introducing changes aimed at professionalising the IFA's administration, he marginalised or forced out opponents within its full-time staff of sixty to make way for recruits loyal to him. He achieved only partial success in the face of stubborn resistance, but made the IFA more effective, especially in public relations. Appearing almost daily in the national media, he used this platform to circumvent the IFA politburo and came across as tough and on top of his brief, if also as one dimensional and uncharismatic. In his gruelling battle with the IFA establishment, Lane owed much to his dynamic deputy president, Joe Rea (qv), who, however, routinely pushed him into more hardline stances than he himself thought prudent. Behind his public bluster and drill-sergeant approach to staff relations, Lane was calm, courteous and calculating.
In Brussels, his relentlessness extracted better prices and more grants for Irish farmers and ameliorated the regressive nature of CAP by providing small and middling farmers with a larger share of the grants. He also used contacts within the French farmers' union to facilitate a deal in late 1977 permitting Irish sheep into the lucrative French market, reversing a long decline in Irish sheep farming. Respected in EEC circles, he had a working knowledge of French and served as deputy president of COPA (1979–81), the main European farmers' organisation, and as a member (1978–82) and chairman (1980–82) of the EEC's economic and social committee. He was also a director of the Irish milk export board, An Bord Bainne (1978–82), and of FBD Insurance, the Irish Farmers' Journal and the Agricultural Trust.
Explicitly aligning the IFA with big business and against industrial workers – who suffered from the rising food prices caused by CAP – he further flouted the prevailing niceties by urging farmers to vote according to their sectional interests. He refused to abide the token attempts by the 1973–7 Fine Gael-led government to tax farmers, and stoked a bidding contest between the two main parties before the summer 1977 general election. Fianna Fáil promised more and, after winning power with the help of big electoral gains in the prosperous rural regions of Leinster and Munster, reduced or abolished various taxes that fell principally on large farmers. Lane also backed supplier groups set on squeezing higher milk prices from co-operatives, and annoyed government, food processors and large beef farmers by encouraging calf exports and demanding more compensation for farmers in return for endorsing the state's cattle-disease eradication programme.
Amid a spectacular boom in Irish agriculture up to 1979, Lane's success in ruthlessly advancing farming interests quieted his internal critics but irritated the general public, as employee taxes rose sharply while farmers paid little or nothing. This anomaly was untenable, and a system whereby all farmers would keep profit-and-loss accounts for tax purposes represented the best outcome for the overwhelming majority of IFA members, though not for the 5,000 to 6,000 intensive milk producers in Munster, who benefited from the option of deriving their liability from archaic valuations. Lane's unwillingness to offend this cohort prevented the timely resolution of an increasingly emotive issue. It also combined with the tax concessions he won earlier to narrow the government's budgetary scope, leading in February 1979 to the imposition of an iniquitous 2 per cent sales levy on farm products. Smallholders were outraged, and as Lane and the other farm leaders strove to outdo each other in fiery rhetoric, the government agreed to rescind the levy if the farm organisations proposed a viable alternative.
This provoked an unprecedented backlash from wage earners, some 200,000 of whom participated in demonstrations on 20 March 1979 that were as much urging a farmers' tax as protesting the payroll tax. Horrified farmers blamed Lane's aggressiveness for rousing a slumbering giant and his authority crumbled, as IFA officials aired diverging views on taxation and the resurgent 'Green Isle brigade' manoeuvred to prevent Joe Rea's succession to the presidency in 1980. The IFA's disarray obliged the government to re-impose the sales levy; it also undid Lane's promising attempts to strengthen the influence of the Munster dairy lobby by merging the IFA with the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers' Association.
Coinciding with one of Ireland's worst farming slumps, Lane's last year in office bore witness to endemic infighting and small-farmer disillusionment with his continued resistance to a universal accounts-based tax system. Furthermore, marts and meat factories in areas hostile to Lane stopped collecting the IFA levy on livestock sales, which deepened an existing crisis in IFA finances, as his ambitious hiring policies and encouragement of grassroots participation entailed spiralling salaries and expense claims. Cashman's crushing victory over Rea in the March 1980 presidential election signified the discrediting of Lane's megaphone lobbying.
That summer, Cashman removed Lane from the board of An Bord Bainne, just as information was leaked to the media revealing the state of the IFA's finances and Lane's billing of £26,000 in expenses during his final year. This aroused sympathy for Lane, given that the IFA presidency was an onerous responsibility carrying no salary, and he was quickly restored to his Bord Bainne directorship. He returned to his farm, where, after having his herd wiped out by disease in 1975 and again in 1984, he stopped dairying and switched to tillage and 'finishing' beef cattle before going all-cattle by 1991. Also active as a Bank of Ireland director from 1981, he was well regarded there and sorry to resign upon his long anticipated move into politics.
Having previously avoided committing himself politically, he exploited a geographic opening by running in the 1989 European elections for the Munster constituency as Fianna Fáil's Limerick area candidate. Backed by Fianna Fáil headquarters, he overcame local party resistance to his nomination and took the final seat in the election. He had a 90 per cent attendance record at the European parliament, where he contributed far more than any other Irish representative and advised the EEC commissioner for agriculture, his party colleague Ray MacSharry (b. 1938), on controversial CAP reforms designed to curtail overproduction and assist smaller farmers by replacing price supports with direct payments.
As MacSharry's foremost supporter, he prosecuted a war of words with the IFA, which utterly opposed changes to CAP. Although the reforms implemented in 1992 were relatively favourable for Irish farmers, Lane lost his seat in the 1994 European elections, undone not by the IFA's hostility but by a surfeit of strong candidates in the Limerick region and a lack of allies within the new Fianna Fáil leadership. Retiring from farming in the late 1990s, he spent most Sundays hunting with the Oakfield foot beagles. He died on 23 July 2012 in the Mid Western Regional Hospital, Limerick, and was buried in Mount St Lawrence cemetery, Limerick.