John Downing: 'Leo needs to reconnect with his farming roots to avoid a ballot box battering'

Analysis...

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar tries his hand at horse-drawn ploughing at the National Ploughing Championships with horses Jack and Jill. Photo: Gerry Mooney.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar tries his hand at horse-drawn ploughing at the National Ploughing Championships with horses Jack and Jill. Photo: Gerry Mooney.
John Downing

John Downing

It may be time for Leo Varadkar to head down Dungarvan way and make contact with his mother's side of the family, who still have farming links.

He must already know it is a rather unhappy time on the land: Brexit is ramping up into something very threatening very soon; a draft Mercosur deal appears to be opening the EU market to South American meat imports; and now the Climate Change Advisory Council is urging cutting the beef herd by one third, taking out 500 million head of cattle but leaving dairying intact because it remains profitable.

That puts a heck of a lot of anxiety into rural communities. Boris Johnson and Co are talking up a no-deal conclusion to Brexit on October 31 like they mean it.

That means tariffs and other disruption to €5.5bn worth of Irish food exports to the UK each year.

So, far the Government has offered what IFA president Joe Healy calls a "sticking plaster" in the form of a €100m in beef farmer subsidies, funded 50:50 by the EU and Ireland.

Smaller-scale dairy farmers, milking 40 cows or fewer, will also qualify.

The Government's attitude to Brexit appears valid. There is no point in caving in to the new UK prime minister's blustering and threats.

Every other day brings predictions of carnage to ensue from a British no-deal, and large numbers of MPs in the Westminster parliament are determined that a no deal cannot happen.

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The EU is equally entrenched and says no deal is definitely not their idea and will not be of their making.

This one will play on for some more weeks teetering all the while on the brink.

On Mercosur, the Government has been on the back foot since news of the deal landed by surprise on Friday, June 28.

There is a really long way to go on the issue, and the lessons of poor communications must be taken on board in the interim.

Reaction

Equally, climate change is not going away, and the role of Irish agribusiness in reducing carbon emissions must be addressed.

Agriculture Minister Michael Creed insists Irish farming can play its part without reducing the national herd - but he cannot rule out reducing animal numbers if other measures do not produce results. It is not the most reassuring reaction.

And here's the thing: we are now 11 months away from a general election which could well happen sooner, depending on Brexit.

That list of troubles down on the farm will tell rural voters to vote for 'Anybody but Fine Gael'.

Surely food for thought for Leo Varadkar if he does decide to take the road to Dungarvan.

Indo Farming


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