Thousands of farmers protest over Cap reform

 

An estimated 20,000 farmers, accompanied by agricultural vehicles have taken part in a 'day of action' to highlight grievances over proposed Cap reform.

The demonstration began in Merrion Square, three sides of which was filled with protesters, at 12.45pm before travelling down Merrion Row and finally onto Kildare Street.

Speeches were delivered from a stage at the end of Molesworth Street facing Leinster House.

The protest was led by a convoy of farm vehicles, including seven tractors, a combine harvester and a milk lorry. More than 200 buses ferried farmers from all over the State to the protest. Some farmers rose as early as 4am to travel from places such as the Beara Peninsula, Valentia and Achill Island.

Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) president John Bryan told the crowd they were there to fight for the future of family farming. He said he was well aware that times were hard for everybody and incomes were down everywhere. “We all want a better future for our families."

He urged Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney to fight for a full Common Agricultural Policy budget and for policies that supported productive farmers. “The Cap is not just about farmers. It supports 300,000 jobs right across Ireland and 40 million jobs in Europe,” he said.

After one hour of speeches from farmers representing all sectors the crowd began to disperse at 2.45pm. Supt Joe Gannon from Pearse Street Garda Station said an estimated 20,000 had attended and the crowd was “impeccably behaved”.

IFA general secretary Bryan Barry said it was the biggest crowd Kildare Street had seen for many years.

Parking on Merrion Square was closed off from last night and will not reopen until 6pm. There is no parking on Molesworth Street from Schoolhouse Lane to the junction of Kildare Street from noon to 6pm.

AA Roadwatch said traffic delays were expected.

The protest was called to highlight concerns about planned reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy and the upcoming budget. It also highlighted the margins being taken by supermarket chains at the expense of farmers.

Placard messages included "No Cap cuts; no farm cuts; no extra costs; regulate the retailers."

Earlier Mr Bryan said there was strong support for the march and busloads of people from all over the State would close their farms to come to Dublin. He said the vast majority of dairy co-ops, beef, lamb, pig and poultry processors, grain merchants and livestock marts would not accept farm produce today in a show of solidarity with the protesters.

The demonstration would send a message to the Government to protect farmers from European and domestic cuts, he said. He told RTÉ's Morning Ireland “the big immediate decision that has to be made in Europe is the Cap budget for the next seven years”.

He said the IFA opposed the flattening and regionalisation of the Single Farm Payment as proposed by the commission because it would lead to a drop in production.

"Over 10,000 farmers will come to Dublin today to signal to Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister Simon Coveney that they have to fight a battle in Europe to defend our vital national interest . . . very clearly we are saying that any cuts will be unacceptable.”

He said it will be difficult for Mr Coveney to “totally wear the green jersey” when he becomes chairman of the Council of Agriculture Ministers next year. In the meantime “he has to get a deal that works for Irish farmers”.

Mr Bryan argued farming was one of the few growth sectors in the domestic economy and that any budget cuts would threaten that growth.

“We’re saying clearly to the Irish Government they have to have some interest in growth because if they continue to just cut cut cut without targeting the productive sector they are going to cost the economy more jobs and prevent growth and increase in exports.”

Mr Coveney said he had “no problem with farmers coming to Dublin today”. People need to be reminded about the importance of the agricultural sector in Ireland, he told Today with Pat Kenny.

He said he agreed with the farmers and “rejected” the proposed region-based scheme. However, he added that there should be some redistribution of support from farmers who benefited substantially from single farm payments to those who have done less well.

He also agreed that he needs "to try and get the key Irish issues resolved" before he chairs the Council of Ministers.

Some farmers on online discussion boards expressed reservations about the march, given the difficult financial situation facing most sectors.

Friends of the Irish Environment also opposed the protest, saying proposed Cap reforms were vital and could breathe new life into rural Ireland.

Director Tony Lowes said the proposed changes would be “a salvation” for farmers on disadvantaged land as the changes would benefit less intensive farmers. “The result of this reversal in payments would be a transforming boost to rural economies with the payments going directly to small farmers and local economies, supporting towns and villages,” he said.

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