Tánaiste meets protesting farmers after they refuse to engage with Minister for Agriculture

Fianna Fáil gathering in Co Tippearay overshadowed by demonstrations over farm payments and nitrates directive

Tánaiste Micheál Martin was pressed into leaving the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party’s think-in in Co Tipperary on Monday to meet protesting farmers after they refused to engage with Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue.

The Minister and Tipperary TD Jackie Cahill came out of the hotel where the meeting is being held in Horse and Jockey, Co Tipperary to meet a delegation from the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) led by its president, Tim Cullinan.

However, there was a stand-off outside the hotel and Mr Cullinan refused to speak to Mr McConalogue or Mr Cahill, who is the chairman of the all-party Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture. He insisted on speaking to Mr Martin.

Fianna Fáil’s parliamentary party is gathering in advance of the start of the Dáil term next week, but the first morning of the meeting has been overshadowed by the farmers’ demonstration.


Scores of farmers arrived at the venue to protest against a reduction to the maximum amount of nitrogen fertiliser allowed per hectare under the EU’s Nitrates Directive, which is falling from 250kg to 220kg per hectare from next year. They are also protesting at delays to payments under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), including payments to sheep farmers.

Lower threshold

The European Commission has said it would not revisit the lowering of threshold, pointing out that Ireland was one of three EU member states that gets a derogation from directive. Mr McConalogue has said the battle now is to keep the 220kg limit for dairy farmers, which is due to fall to 170kg per hectare from 2026, the limit that applies in most states.

It is estimated that about 3,000 dairy farmers will be affected by the changes to the directive, which will result in them having to reduce their herd size or to find additional land. One of the reasons cited by the commission in not retaining the upper limit is the levels of pollution in Irish watercourses including rivers, lakes and estuaries, some of which is caused by run-off from agricultural sources.

Mr Cullinan said he would not engage with Mr McConalogue and would speak only with Mr Martin.

“Remember where you are this morning,” he told the Minister. “You are in the Golden Vale, at the heart of farming in Ireland. This is the heartbeat of rural Ireland down here in Tipperary. Years ago we lost the beet industry down there. By God, I’m telling you, Minister, we are not going to lose the beef industry or the sheep industry or the tillage sector.”

He said the IFA had put together a “very credible proposal” regarding the derogation and that it wanted to be discussed in with decision makers in Brussels. He said the IFA was at the point of no more negotiations until the Government was willing to put the issues back on the table.

Unique system

“We want you to get the officials in the commission to come back to Ireland and see what we are doing here. And remember what we have here, we have a grass-based system in Ireland which is unique around the world. Origin Green, which has sold our dairy products in 140 counties around the world, we want to continue doing that.”

Mr McConalogue said he was happy to meet the IFA during the course of the Fianna Fáil gathering on Monday, as was the Tánaiste.

Mr Martin emerged from the hotel during a heavy downpour and briefly met Mr Cullinan. The Tánaiste said he wanted to engage and had no issue meeting the delegation and that he would speak to Mr Cullinan inside the venue later.

A meeting got under way in the venue in the late morning between Mr Martin, Mr McConalogue, Mr Cahill and an IFA delegation.

Speaking later on Monday, Minister for Environment Eamon Ryan said the European Commission decision on reducing Ireland’s nitrate derogation would not be changed. “It’s clear they are not going to reverse their position. The new nitrate limit applies.”

He said he would work with farmers to find a solution that maintains farm families while addressing environmental issues around water pollution.

He said he had a meeting recently with representatives of Tirlán, Ireland’s largest, farmer-owned food and nutrition business, whose views he believed were similar to his. They wanted to protect Irish farm families, which were central to rural Ireland and engaging in high quality farming with good animal welfare standards, he said.

There was recognition that water quality needed to be protected in light of recent deterioration, Mr Ryan added.

The Minister said the current state of Lough Neagh in the North was a shocking example of this, while the EPA had found that rivers in the southeast were “saturated” by nitrates. Equally high levels of potassium and phosphate were contaminating too many swimming areas and causing algal blooms.

Mr Ryan said protecting waterways while supporting Irish farming was feasible. It was possible to find solutions that protected the environment while allowing farmers to trade on an Origin Green basis.

Asked if the protests were heaping pressure on the Green Party in particular, he said his job was to “sit down and work with farm organisations, to listen and to work co-operatively”.

“This is about protecting all our futures,” he said.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times