Farming groups overwhelmingly in favour of Yes vote

Tue, May 22, 2012, 01:00

Farmers for No are a dissident voice among their colleagues and the vital agri-business sector, writes ALISON HEALY

FARM AND agri-business groups have thrown their weight behind the campaign for a Yes vote in the fiscal treaty referendum.

Not only did the main farm groups come out early in favour of a Yes vote, but they are also campaigning for the treaty.

The support from the agri-food sector sends a strong message to the non-farming community, according to Fine Gael MEP Mairéad McGuinness.

“When the IFA came out early and strong in favour of the treaty, people did take notice because they know that farmers are connected with Europe and understand its importance,” she says.

The vast majority of the State’s 124,000 farmers are members of organisations such as the Irish Farmers’ Association, the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association and Macra na Feirme, and she believes they pay attention when the leadership adopts a position.

The Common Agricultural Policy (Cap) negotiations are clearly a factor in the support for the treaty. It would be doubly embarrassing for Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney if he failed to deliver a Yes vote, as he is Fine Gael’s director of elections. He will be a key figure when Ireland takes over the EU presidency in January. The Cap talks are expected to conclude during the six-month presidency.

The farm groups have been joined by agri-businesses in the Yes campaign. Glanbia, Kepak, Cork Marts and Connacht Gold are among the firms endorsing the campaign. They cite the importance of the European market and a stable currency.

Chairman of Connacht Gold Co-op Pádraig Gibbons says a “resounding Yes vote” is vital to all sectors of the economy, especially the agri-food sector.

“At this perilous time for Ireland, we cannot be half in and half out of the EU,” he adds.

Glanbia’s managing director John Moloney notes the opportunities offered by the abolition of milk quotas in 2015 and says it will give a unique expansion opportunity to the Irish dairy sector.

“It is critical we have a stable currency base to maximise our competitive position as we further develop export markets,” he says.

Smaller food businesses also support the Yes campaign.

Louis Grubb of the Cashel Blue Farmhouse Cheese company says exports account for about 50 per cent of his cheese production, and Europe is a key part of that market. “We are small players in a . . . challenging environment,” he says. “We cannot afford barriers.”

The family-owned enterprise employs 16 full-time staff and sees key opportunities for future growth in countries such as France and Germany.

Macra na Feirme president Alan Jagoe says the young farmers’ group wants to send the message that “we want to be part of Europe. We are dependent on a lot of goodwill in Europe and if we vote No, I do think it could put our exports in jeopardy.”

He says a No vote could result in Ireland leaving the euro, which would be devastating for trade.

Not all farmers though are in favour of the treaty.

The Farmers for No group includes past and present members of the IFA and the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association. Chairman James Reynolds was active in calling for a No vote during the Lisbon campaign and he campaigned for Libertas’s Declan Ganley when he ran in the European elections.

He says the group is an important voice in the No campaign as it is one of the few factions not coming from the “loony left”.

“My great fear is that the majority of farmers are going to vote Yes because of misinformation,” he says.

“The main reasons why farm organisations are urging a Yes vote are ironically the same reasons why I am saying ‘vote No’.”

While the pro-treaty groups say a Yes vote will provide stability for the Cap, he says it will do the opposite as the EU could move funds from the Cap budget to the European Stability Mechanism fund. The European Stability Mechanism treaty paves the way for a permanent €500 billion European bailout fund.

While the Yes campaign says Ireland’s membership of the euro has boosted exports, he says it has had a catastrophic effect on the Irish economy, and the treaty will only result in permanent austerity. “Too many targets have to be met and it will be impossible to do so,” he says.