A €100 million aid package for Ireland's beef farmers, jointly funded by the European Commission and the Government, will "flow to farmers in the next couple of months", Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.
The European Commission has pledged €50 million in exceptional funds to deal with the crisis that has faced beef farmers for nearly three years, which will be matched by the Government.
Speaking in Dublin, Mr Varadkar said: “If we could have got it over the line a few weeks ago we would have been very happy, as you can imagine. As a Government, we have been listening to what the beef farmers have been saying.
“We appreciate and understand that the beef price is very low and the cost of production is now exceeding the price that farmers can get from the factories. So we wanted to help.
“And the commission has now put some money on the table, so we need to now work out the detail of that. But we expect the money to flow to farmers in the next couple of months.”
The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) says farmers have suffered €101 million worth of losses between September 2018 and March this year, which now threatens to ruin some farmers.
The industry could be hit by 40 per cent tariffs if a hard Brexit of any form occurs
IFA president Joe Healy said farmers have lost on average €100 per head on every steer and heifer killed since the United Kingdom's decision to quit the European Union in June 2016.
Uncertainties over Brexit have already caused beef prices to plummet in Ireland, while the industry could be hit by 40 per cent tariffs if a hard Brexit of any form occurs.
“We based our analysis on farmers who had sold cattle – slaughtered cattle – and the losses they had incurred, and we feel those farmers need to get that money,” Mr Healy told RTÉ’s Today with Seán O’Rourke.
Factory price records from September 2018 to March 2019 compared with the six months before the Brexit referendum vote show that prices for bulls has dropped by €1 per kg, while a 25 cent per kg fall has happened for steer and heifer prices.
Defending the strength of the lobbying the IFA has carried out in recent months, Mr Healy was unapologetic: “I’ll admit that it doesn’t hurt when there’s an election in a few weeks’ time.”
Describing the aid package as “very important”, Minister for Rural Affairs Seán Canney said it was “welcome news for our farmers” who have been struggling for nearly three years.
Beef farmers have suffered savage price losses due to Brexit uncertainty
"I have been assisting the Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed, in making the case for our beef farmers at national and EU level and I am very pleased at this outcome.
“Beef farmers have suffered savage price losses due to Brexit uncertainty, and it is a welcome development that the EU commission has recognised this and responded to the IFA proposal,” he said.
IFA national livestock chairman Angus Woods said that while the finer details of the scheme had to be finalised, it is vital that every cent goes directly to farmers.
Edmund Graham, beef chairman of the Irish Cattle & Sheep Farmers' Association, said farmers have "absolutely been hammered", adding that it is now causing €4 million worth of losses each week.
He paid tribute to EU commissioner Phil Hogan and to his commission colleague, budget commissioner Günther Oettinger.
“There will be some conditions attached to this and we await the detail on this.”