Northern Ireland MEPs blast €500m bailout as farmers lay siege to Brussels
A package worth half a billion euro announced by the European Commission to help beleaguered farmers is not enough, Northern Ireland's two unionist MEPs have said.
And the Ulster Farmers' Union described the deal, which doesn't meet its key demand of an increase in the dairy intervention price, as disappointing.
UFU president Ian Marshall said: "Farmers across many sectors are feeling the impact of prices that are not sustainable. The protest brings to the fore the urgency of the issues dominating the food supply chain, which at present is failing to function properly."
While EU farm ministers met in Brussels for talks, thousands of angry farmers took to the streets outside in protest.
They came from every corner of Europe, including Northern Ireland, to highlight their plight and were met by a strong line of police in riot gear.
Some farmers pelted chopped straw, potatoes or eggs at the police.
Officers responded with water cannon to try and keep the farmers at bay as some tried to break through their lines.
They converged on EU headquarters in tractors, snarling up traffic during the morning rush hour in the Belgian capital and on some roads leading into Brussels.
Police said 4,800 farmers and about 1,450 tractors made up the protest but lobby groups have raised the figures to 6,000 farmers and 2,000 tractors.
The Commission said it was announcing the comprehensive support package worth €500m (£365m) in recognition of the difficulties being experienced by producers.
Speaking at the extraordinary Council of Agriculture Ministers, vice-president Jyrki Katainen said: "This package will allow for €500m of EU funds to be used for the benefit of farmers immediately. This is a robust and decisive response."
But DUP MEP Diane Dodds described the package as "a lost opportunity".
She said: "The package falls far short of what our local industry both needs and has lobbied for. The most effective and efficient use of public funds would be to raise intervention prices. Unfortunately the Commissioner has chosen instead to put forward another aid scheme which could simply act as a distraction."
Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson said the package did not contain enough measures to tackle immediate problems.
He said: "The headline-grabbing €500m targeted aid for farmers will not amount to much once it is subdivided across Member States - but we must get our share of this.
"I have concerns that the package does not do enough to alleviate the extreme pressure being felt by farmers right now and I continue to call for intervention prices to be reviewed to assist the dairy sector."
Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill added: "We have thousands of farmers on the streets of Brussels here today waiting for answers and waiting for a glimmer of hope in terms of what support they're going to achieve.
"That information still isn't clear at this minute in time."