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Farmers say government 'throwing them under bus' with South American beef deal

Farmers' wellies piled at the gates of Leinster House during a demonstration in Dublin, as the government is accused of shackling farmers with the Mercosur deal PICTURE: Michelle Devane/PA

THE government has been accused of "shackling" farmers and "throwing them under the bus" with the Mercosur deal.

Hundreds of farmers turned out for a demonstration outside the gates of Leinster House in Dublin on Wednesday to highlight the potential impact of the controversial trade deal between the EU and South America on their livelihoods.

The protest was organised by the Beef Plan Movement and attended by people from several farming organisations from across the country.

Dozens of farmers' wellies were thrown in a pile at the gates of Leinster House to highlight the impact the Mercosur deal would have on them.

The proposed agreement between the EU and a group of countries including Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay was reached last week after 20 years of talks.

It could mean an extra 99,000 tonnes of beef, 18,000 tonnes of poultry and 25 tonnes of pork is imported from South America.

The deal has been heavily criticised by environmental groups and beef farmers, who believe it will lead to poorer quality beef flooding the EU market at the expense of Irish farmers.

Supporters of the deal argue that rather than undermining sustainability it presents an opportunity for Europe to export high social and environmental standards to the South American bloc.

Jeremiah Lordan, a beef farmer from Co Cork, was one of the hundreds of farmers who travelled to the capital to take part in the demonstration.

He said he was solely reliant on his farming income to support his family, including his three children.

"If this deal is passed through it's the end of the line for me," Mr Lordan said.

"You can see all the wellies thrown here. This is where we really have to dig in.

"We really have to dig in or else it's the end of the road for us."

Mr Landon said farmers were angry.

"Why should Brazilians cut up all this rainforest and produce beef and the Irish government are telling us that the Irish should give up the beef and plant more forestry?," he asked.

"That's the maddening part of it. It doesn't make sense to me."

Ciaran Logue, a suckler farmer in Co Meath, said he had joined others to highlight how difficult it is for farmers.

"Our government has absolutely shackled us – we cannot stand up any longer and take this," he said.

"We have to go fighting for ourselves because nobody is helping us out.

"We're being shackled with climate change and we're doing things as environmentally as we can and then you have people in South America pulling acres upon acres of the Amazon rainforest up and burning it.

"It's not a level playing field."

Mr Logue claimed agriculture minister Michael Creed was not listening to farmers.

"He's side-stepped any question we've asked him," he said.

"He'd want to start answering the real hard hitting questions – if he doesn't, I think he should be thrown out on his ear, himself and Commissioner Phil Hogan.

"We've a lump of Wellingtons in front of the Dáil today and I think it's the two boys that should be getting the boot, not the boots."

The protest was timed to coincide with the taoiseach taking leaders' questions in the Dáil.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald claimed the Mercosur deal was a "sell-out" of Irish farmers and their families, who were already suffering from the uncertainty of Brexit.

"It's devastating news for the rural economy and it flies in the face of commitments made to tackle climate change," she said.

She called on the government to support a motion being tabled by Sinn Féin against the proposed deal.

"This deal needs to be stopped," she said.

Leo Varadkar said the best thing the government could do for farmers was to make sure a Brexit deal was secured before October so the largest export market for Irish beef farmers remains open to them.

"The concerns that arise over Mercosur would pale into insignificance if we end up with no-deal on October 31," he said.

He added if the deal was not in Ireland's interest then the government would not hesitate to vote against it but he said they would have to assess the downsides and the upsides of it.

Ms McDonald said Mr Varadkar was not going to convince "any sensible person" that he was protecting beef industry.

"You say that this deal needs to be assessed and tested," she said.

"It sounds to me like you're quite prepared to throw farming families under the bus if it suits the interest of... maybe bigger corporate interests who might wish to export into the large South American market.

"That's how it sounds to me and I think that's how it sounds to the farmers at the gate."

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