Belfast Telegraph

Farmers heckle Varadkar amid call for support over Brexit uncertainty

The Taoiseach faced a demonstration ahead of a Government meeting being held in Cork.

Members of the Irish Farmers’ Association stage a protest (Michelle Devane/PA)
Members of the Irish Farmers’ Association stage a protest (Michelle Devane/PA)

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has been heckled by farmers demanding increased Brexit support.

Mr Varadkar was greeted by shouts and chants of “Where’s the beef, ye vegan?” as he arrived in Cork for a Government meeting.

Members of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) staged a demonstration outside City Hall on Wednesday to coincide with a Cabinet meeting being held in the landmark building.

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The protest was held outside Cork City Hall (Michelle Devane/PA)

When asked to respond to the heckler, Mr Varadkar said he was not vegan and that he was “very much an omnivore”.

The chants were made in reference to comments made earlier this year by the Taoiseach that he was cutting down on eating red meat for health and climate change reasons.

The remarks were not well received by farmers.

Mr Varadkar was cornered by IFA president Joe Healy as he made his way into the building.

Mr Healy told the Taoiseach: “We need answers today. We need a clear message coming from this meeting today, farmers are depending on it.”

He said industries across the country were also waiting on answers as they were waiting on farmers to pay the bills that they owed.

Mr Varadkar told Mr Healy that the Government wanted to do more for beef farmers, but he said they already received far more income supports than other sectors.

Tanaiste Simon Coveney was also cornered by farmers as he arrived for the meeting.

IFA members told him they had suffered long enough and that beef farmers could not continue to operate in the midst of such economic uncertainty.

The organisation is calling on the Government to step in and support beef farmers.

Addressing the rally, Mr Healy said the beef sector needed a 100 million euro aid package to ensure its survival.

“We’re here in the rebel country and this is very much a farmers’ rebellion and we make no apologies for it,” he told the crowd.

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Farmers hit out at the uncertainty caused by Brexit (Michelle Devane/PA)

The IFA president said beef farmers had been “savaged” financially by the uncertainty caused by Brexit.

“The IFA are not going to allow this Government to turn their backs on Irish farmers and in particular beef farmers,” he said.

“We’re going to fight and fight like hell to make sure an aid package is got for the losses that Irish beef farmers have suffered over the last number of years, but particularly over the last six/seven months.

“If those farmers aren’t supported well then they face extinction and that’s the message that we were getting across to every minister and the Taoiseach who went through that door today.”

Mr Healy added that farmers were “angry and fed up to the back teeth of empty promises” and that it was time for the Government to deliver.

Speaking after the Cabinet meeting, Mr Varadkar said: “Everyone in government acknowledges that beef farmers in Ireland at the moment are struggling. The beef price is extremely low and as a result of that a lot of beef farmers are in financial distress.

“The impact of that is wider than 75,000 beef farmers on their own. It has an impact across the rural economy as well and has very significant knock-on effects.”

He said the beef price was low due to a variety of reasons including Brexit and that the government wanted to do more to help .

The Taoiseach added that the Government had made a submission to the European Commission about what income supports might be able to be provided to farmers.

Responding specifically to the accusations made by farmers that he was a vegan, Mr Varadkar replied: “Yeah I’m not a vegan for a start. I’m very much an omnivore. My problem if anything is I probably eat too much of everything.”

Last month, farmers stormed an AIB meeting in Dublin in protest against the bank’s sale of loans to vulture funds.

The demonstration was part of a nationwide campaign opposing the planned sale of farm loans by the State-owned bank.

PA

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