AS MANY as 2,500 farmers have marched on Leinster House to protest against the EU’s Mercosur trade deal amid fears it will devastate the beef industry.
There was anger among the crowd and protesters left their boots at the gates of Leinster House with a sign that read “no longer needed”.
It comes as the Dáil debates a Sinn Féin motion calling on the government to reject the Mercosur deal.
European Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan – who was yesterday nominated by the government to be reappointed to the Commission – was involved in striking the trade deal with South American countries.
Once it is in force it is to include a 99,000t allowance for beef exports to the EU.
The protest was organised by the Beef Plan Movement which represents around 20,000 farmers and they were joined by leaders from the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers (ICSA) and Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) Edmund Phelan and Pat McCormack.
Farmers brought hundreds of wellies to the protest, as a sign that if the Mercosur deal goes through they won’t need them anymore.
The estimated numbers at today’s demonstration at as much as 2,500 people.
Its chairperson for the Western Region, David Whelehan told the crowd: “This protest today is about rural Ireland.
“While Mercosur is a very small part of it we have bigger issues – Brexit – we don’t know what’s coming down the tracks… we have a beef industry that’s not working.
“For too long we have watched successive governments stand back and not help farmers the way they should,” he said.
Pat McCormack of the ICMSA said the future of rural Ireland is at stake.
He added: “It’s long enough we were ignored but this Mercosur deal is trying to terminate the people of rural Ireland and it has to be stopped.”
Edmond Phelan, president of the ICMSA said his organisation protested against the Mercosur deal three years ago.
He said: “It was a bad deal that day and it’s a bad deal today” and added that “[Taoiseach] Leo Varadkar would want to stand up for us or else stand down.”
He also said: “And I’ll tell you this. If any supermarket thinks they’re going to sell Brazilian beef, we’ll close them down.”
The rally also head from several politicians.
Kerry Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae said the protest was a “loud clear message to government – you’re either with us or you’re against us.”
He urged the crowd to watch how their TDs vote on the Mercosur deal whether they’ll be with farmers or with the Taoiseach, who, Mr Healy-Rae claimed, said he was going to cut his carbon footprint by “stopping eating beef”.
Mr Varadkar never said he would stop eating beef, but said he was cutting back, remarks that prompted criticism from the Opposition and farmers.
Mr Healy-Rae said: “This is the time for us to stand united or else we’ll lose our beef farmers and we’ll lose our family farms.”
His brother Danny Healy-Rae said Mercosur is a “lousy deal”.
He said there are lower standards in South American countries claiming: “there isn’t tagging of an animal, the worm and flies are gone mad and they have foot and mouth and every other thing… and we are trodden down to the ground by every kind of a rule and regulation.
“We’re going to take no more of that,” he added.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald accused the government of hypocrisy saying that it: “on the one hand tell us they care about Irish interests but on the other hand will sign on the dotted line for this betrayal of our economic, and social and farming interests”.
Fianna Fáil’s Jackie Cahill was heckled as he addressed the crowd with protesters accusing his party of supporting Fine Gael and the government.
He said: “Fianna Fáil will stand where it always stood. Fianna Fáil will stand with rural Ireland.
Mr Cahill claimed: “Beef farmers were in trouble before Mercosur… the price that beef farmers were getting were unsustainable before Phil Hogan sold out European agriculture.
He also claimed: “He has sold out Irish farmers for the industrialists of Europe and is reward is he’s going to get another job for the next five years.”
A member of the crowd shouted: “Well stop supporting Fine Gael”.
Mr Cahill said: “The people of rural Ireland will have their chance to decide on this government in the near future.”
He identified Brexit as a “huge threat” and said his party will “do the responsible thing”.
He promised Fianna Fáil will fight for rural Ireland protect the beef industry.
Agriculture minister Michael Creed has said that Mercosur is not a done deal and that he intends to use the time available to before it comes into force to “ensure everything is done to frustrate and mitigate, dismantle the ambition and protect the interests of the beef sector.”
The government intends to carry out an analysis of the deal.
Mr Hogan has defended the deal saying the beef quota is fixed at 99,000 tonnes which is just 1.25pc of total EU beef consumption and no product will be allowed to enter the EU market unless it complies 100pc with EU standards.
He said there will be opportunities for Ireland arising from the removal of tariffs for cheese and other dairy products, as well as for exports of Irish spirits.
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