Farmers take protest to Brussels in call for EU action
Northern Ireland farmers will be among the thousands of European farmers protesting in the streets of Brussels today over the continuing fall in produce prices.
It had been predicted that 2,000 farmers and 1,000 tractors will travel to Brussels to hold the mass demonstration outside the extraordinary meeting of the European Union Agriculture Ministers, but fresh estimates suggest up to 6,000 farmers and 2,000 tractors will attend.
However, the big name that was to be the centre of attention at that meeting, EU Farm Commissioner Phil Hogan, will not be in attendance.
All hopes had been resting on Mr Hogan to come up with an immediate package to help farmers in all sectors to relieve them from the crisis.
According to Mr Hogan's spokesman, the Commissioner took ill on Saturday night and was taken to hospital with a stomach viral infection.
He will therefore be replaced at the meeting by Jyrki Katainen, the EU Commission Vice President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, who instead will present the package of proposals.
Local members of farm lobby groups Fair Price Farming NI, the Ulster Farmers' Union and Farmers For Action, among others, will also be present at the protest.
A number of protests were held last week at the European Commission's office in Belfast and at Stormont, making one final push to highlight the predicament farmers are in.
Those who attended the Belfast protests say they left both the local government and the Commission in no doubt as to the severity of the situation.
There are cracks appearing in the call for a 'united' approach to the crisis as tempers rise between the various lobby groups in Northern Ireland.
The Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU) did a U-turn when it held its protest at Stormont on Friday away from its 'no protest' policy. It seems the union bowed to pressure after seeing it was clear the Fair Price Farming NI group was indeed getting results from its protests.
Various meetings between the UFU and Fair Price Farming NI did not end with both groups agreeing to unite with the other.
In fact, Fair Price Farming NI had asked the UFU to lead its protest last Thursday to the Europe Commission office in Belfast but the union refused.
All eyes are on the extraordinary meeting to see what the Commission is prepared to do to help ailing farmers.
Sources say Mr Hogan was expected to announce a dairy support package worth €300m to help the industry, funded by the 2014-15 dairy superlevy fines estimated at around €840m.
The protest is being arranged by Copa Cogeca, representing farmers and farm co-operatives, in response to the drastic situation hitting EU dairy, pork, fruit and vegetable, and beef producers.