Farmers’ protest: ‘If we have to go to Dublin and escalate this, we will’

IFA holds four regional rallies in Cavan, Roscommon, Portlaoise, Co Laois and Cork

IFA president Tim Cullinan speaking to farmers in Cavan town on Friday morning. Photograph: Finbarr O’ Rourke

IFA president Tim Cullinan speaking to farmers in Cavan town on Friday morning. Photograph: Finbarr O’ Rourke

 

Cavan Town was dark and drizzly early on Friday morning when farmers from across the county and beyond assembled to highlight their concerns over CAP reform and other issues affecting their sector.

Regional rallies organised by the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) took place in Roscommon, Portlaoise, Co Laois and Cork, as well as Cavan.

The urgency behind the hastily convened series of four protests was driven by the imminent recommendations of the Climate Change Advisory Council to the Government, and fears among farmers that the imposition of carbon ceilings could undermine the viability of their farms.

In Cavan, approximately a dozen tractors, followed by many more jeeps and cars, made the mile-long journey from the gathering point to Cavan Courthouse.

An early hour was set to enable organisers to attend the three other protests later in the day, but also to avoid angering commuters and parents dropping off school children.

Outside the landmark building, located close to the Department of Agriculture offices, a rally of approximately 250 people heard Elizabeth Ormiston, chairwoman of Cavan’s IFA executive, deliver a message to Government: “We are not for turning on this. We need their support because if our livelihoods are taken away, with us goes employment of around 160,000 people, exports of €14 billion and it will cause a shock to our economy.”

IFA banners were unfurled showing groups from Donegal, Longford, Louth, Meath, Monaghan and Westmeath had travelled to join the Cavan contingent.

Thomas Fitzsimons, a free range egg producer from Virginia, brought along his son Ben and nephew Gearóid Fitzsimons.

“It will not happen, it can’t happen, it’s too much to expect farmers in Ireland to do that,” he said of the mooted 51 per cent carbon emission reduction. “Most farmers have to work intensively to make a living on their farms, so cutting back just wouldn’t work, it will drive farmers off the land.”

Many farmers said they believe they are unfairly portrayed in the media when it comes to the climate debate.

Cavan dairy and beef farmer Thomas Cooney defended their record saying that the Irish dairy sector is the most efficient in the EU and the beef sector is in the top five for efficiency amongst member states.

“There’s no point cutting back on production in Ireland, where we are [amongst] the most environmental in the world and food being produced in Brazil where there’s no regulations, and an area the size of Co Leitrim being deforested from the Amazon every month.”

IFA president Tim Cullinan said farmers were worried and concerned about their future.

“What we are seeing from our Government is cut after cut, adding more costs to farmers. Farmers cannot sustain this.

“We know that the Climate Advisory Council is bringing a budget seeking a 51 per cent cut in emissions by 2030. We cannot achieve 51 per cent, but we are willing to play our part.”

He noted that two plans, Ag-Climatise and Agri Food Strategy 2030, had already been agreed between Government and the agriculture sector, committing to a number of environmentally beneficial actions.

“Those plans have now been torn up and thrown in the bin,” Mr Cullinan claimed.

“We are facing a change in the goalposts again, so you can understand why farmers are so concerned.”

“We need to be able to sit down with our Government, negotiate a proper structure around all of this,” Mr Cullinan said, referring to carbon ceilings, the nitrates review and CAP reform.

“We will be awaiting to see if we get a response from our Government and if we don’t, obviously we will be escalating it again. We will be reconsidering this over the weekend and if we have to go to Dublin and escalate this, we will.”

Farmers will hope the threat of protests in the capital will resonate with politicians eager to avoid a repeat of the gridlock on Dublin’s streets in January 2020. Then hundreds of beef and suckler farmers under the banner of Independent Farmers of Ireland, not the IFA, brought Dublin to a standstill for days, and then proceeded to mount a ‘go-slow’ protest during rush hour on the M50.

Mr Cullinan insisted that if they do go to the capital, IFA farmers would remain in Dublin until a resolution is found.

“This is a critical juncture. We are looking at the most fundamental change here since the foundation of the state and we have to get a proper outcome. It’s not just farming, it’s the whole of rural Ireland that’s at stake here.”