There were chaotic scenes at the Department of Agriculture in Dublin yesterday as angry protesters blockaded the entrance and staged a sit-in protest during a rally against “unfair” beef regulations.
The demonstration was organised by the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA), whose president Eddie Downey accused Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney of being "distracted [by] his possible future role in Cabinet" despite the emergence of what the IFA has termed a "beef crisis" in recent months.
The IFA claims the Minister has failed to tackle the issue of plummeting livestock prices which they say are caused by “severe and unfair” specifications imposed under the Quality Payment System, a quality assurance initiative for beef products first implemented in 2009.
Fall-off in prices
According to the organisation, this has led to a 15 per cent fall-off in beef prices compared to this time last year which could result in a reduction of €370 million in beef output and exports by the end of the year if the current situation continues unabated.
“Farmers believe that Minister Coveney has been sleepwalking through this beef crisis. They are angry that he seems distracted about his possible future role in Cabinet rather than issues that are putting their livelihoods under threat,” said Mr Downey, who also expressed grievances at the imposition of roadblocks which he says are hampering livestock trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
In a statement, Mr Coveney acknowledged farmers’ concerns, but said it was “neither appropriate nor legally possible” for him to intervene on the issue of pricing.
‘Matters for the market’
“On questions of price, these are matters for the market, and for negotiation between the contracting parties,” said the Minister, who was in Luxembourg on EU business.
Fianna Fáil’s agriculture spokesman Éamon Ó Cuív has criticised the “bureaucracy” involved in applying for beef standard support schemes aimed at farmers. Mr Ó Cuív said only half of such farmers are applying for incentives like the Beef Genomics Scheme and the Beef Data Programme as a result. “The low level of funding on offer does not warrant the punishing level of red tape required to qualify for these programmes. The Minister needs to reduce the amount of bureaucracy involved to encourage more farmers into these schemes so they can avail of much-needed funding,” he said.
Latest figures from Teagasc, the agriculture and food development authority, show an average reduction in income of 22 per cent on cattle-rearing farms, a trend that is causing considerable alarm in the livestock farming community amid falling prices.