Rally brings 20,000 into city on 'Day of Action'
AN ESTIMATED 20,000 farmers marched through Dublin city centre in a demonstration organised by the Irish Farmers’ Association to highlight grievances.
The “Day of Action” was twice as large as predicted by the organisers and was the biggest protest held by farmers in 14 years.
IFA president John Bryan said it was a fight for the future of family farming. “I am well aware these are hard times for everybody. Incomes are down everywhere and they’re back sharply in farming this year,” he said.
“We all want a better future for our families. To get out of this, Ireland must focus on its strengths,” he told the crowd when it gathered outside the Dáil after marching from Merrion Square.
He urged Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney to fight for a full Common Agricultural Policy (Cap) budget and for policies that supported productive farmers.
The EU Commission is proposing a reform of the Cap that would change the way the annual single farm payment is made. Instead of basing it on past production, it is planning to move towards a flat payment per hectare. Department of Agriculture research has suggested that more farmers will gain than lose under this proposal, but Mr Bryan said active farmers would lose out and this would affect food production.
He said thousands of farmers would see their payments drop by 30 to 60 per cent.
“The Cap is not just about farmers. It supports 300,000 jobs right across Ireland and 40 million jobs in Europe,” he said. The seven-year Cap deal is worth €1.6 billion per year to this State.
“Our message for Taoiseach Enda Kenny is you must hold the line on the Cap budget which will be decided within two months and if that means flying out to meet Angela Merkel it has to be done,” he said.
The protest also highlighted farmers’ concerns of further cutbacks in the upcoming budget. Mr Bryan said farm schemes were cut by 17 per cent in last year’s budget, while Government departments experienced a cut of 3.5 per cent. “These cuts have hit low-income farmers especially hard.”
More than 200 buses ferried farmers from all over the State to the protest. Some people rose as early as 4am to travel from places such as the Beara peninsula, Valentia island and Achill.
IFA general secretary Bryan Barry said a truck on Merrion Square had dispatched some 10,000 sandwiches to farmers as they prepared to march.
The protest was led by a convoy of farm vehicles, including seven tractors, a combine harvester and a milk lorry.
Farmer Shane McKeon from Leitrim carried hay on his back to highlight the difficult harvest farmers had experienced.
One placard said “no farming, no food, no food, nobody”, while a young boy in a peaked cap held a sign asking: “Is it Australia for me?”
Some placards called for regulation of supermarkets, with one highlighting the small margin provided to pig producers. And someone took the opportunity to highlight health cuts with a banner that read: “Save our ambulance service in west Cork”.
The crowd began to disperse at 2.45pm. Supt Joe Gannon from Pearse Street Garda station said an estimated 20,000 had attended, based on the fact that the crowd filled Kildare Street and spilled over into Molesworth Street.
The last big farmers’ demonstration was in 1998, when some 40,000 farmers marched from Phoenix Park to the city centre.
AA Roadwatch said restrictions were lifted by 4pm and traffic was normal before rush hour.
FARMING TODAY: EAR TO THE GROUND
Cullen, Co Tipperary
“We are after a very, very tough year and with expenses and everything else we just can’t afford any more cuts.”
She is a dairy farmer and said it would be “very serious” if the proposed changes to Cap came in. “We’re only barely struggling as it is.” One of her four children is interested in farming “although he says farming is the fastest way of all to dry up your money”.
Drumkeeran, Co Leitrim
“Two busloads came up for it.”
He says the proposed changes to the single farm payment encouraged him to attend the demonstration.
“My income would be halved if they brought in these changes to Cap,” he adds.
“To be sure we are worried about the budget too. There’s not many in the country not worried about it.”
Clonroche, Co Wexford
“I’m here to safeguard our entitlements for the future. We don’t want any more cuts. We can’t live without the single farm payment . That’s most of our profit – all our profit really.”
He says it was a very tough harvest and his yield of malting barley was back by one tonne. “The only thing saved us was that the price was a bit better.”
Laragh, Co Cavan
There should be more to support young farmers. “In 2008 the installation aid and early retirement schemes were taken away.”
He hopes to take over the family farm. “But there’s not enough income to support two families . . . I’ll probably have to look for some sort of a job so that’s why I’m in education.”
Stradone, Co Cavan
He says it is crucial to protect the €1.6 billion coming to Ireland every year in the form of Common Agricultural Policy payments.
The dairy and beef farmer says farming is productive and any cuts would have a negative impact on the whole economy. “Plus we also want to tackle the supermarket dominance . . . Look at a litre of milk – only 30 cent goes to the farmer.”