Ireland seeks compensation on BSE, farm leaders told


FARM leaders say the Taoiseach has given them a commitment that the Government will use Ireland's Presidency of the EU to try to secure compensation for livestock farmers affected by the BSE crisis.

The farm leaders met Mr Bruton, the Tanaiste, Mr Spring, the Minister for Agriculture, Mr Yates, and the Minister of State, Ms Liz McManus, at Government Buildings yesterday.

Following the 1 1/2-hour meeting, a statement from the Government said that along with the immediate issues such as compensation and more intervention, the Government was also looking at longer-term issues such as a comprehensive tracing system for Irish beef from farm to consumer and a variety of other food safety measures.

The president of the Irish Farmers' Association, Mr John Donnelly, said after the meeting that the IFA was firmly against proposals to cut Irish beef production. He had reminded the Taoiseach that the livestock industry was 10 times more important to Ireland that to the EU as a whole.

He told the Taoiseach that the Irish beef sector could not survive at the current unviable cattle price of 82 pence a pound.

The president of the ICMSA, Mr Frank Allan, said that a Europe-wide response was necessary. Europe must finance Irish farmers, he said. Ireland could not afford to do it. "The problem was not caused by us," he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Yates told a Fine Gael meeting in Tullamore, Co Offaly, last night that there was a Government strategy towards restoring stability to the beef industry. He said that along with securing a floor price which was above safety-net intervention, the Government was making every effort to have the Iranian, Libyan and Saudi Arabian markets reopened.

A reduction in output was essential, he maintained. However, he said the Government was committed to ensuring that whatever reductions were agreed would be effective at EU level and would not damage Irish producers.

The Fianna Fail spokesman on agriculture, Mr Brian Cowen, said yesterday that reassurances from the Minister that cattle prices would hold up were not cutting any ice with hard-pressed farmers, "who are increasingly fed up with promises of further developments every time he returns from Brussels with no decisions taken".

The PD leader, Ms Mary Harney, has also accused the Government of inaction and said in a statement that Mr Yates was not being given sufficient support by the rest of the Government. "The coalition is not giving this crisis the priority it deserves," she declared.