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Margaret Donnelly: 'Leo tries to squash the beef - but talk of emission cuts hard to stomach'



Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was guest of honour at the IFA Annual General Meeting. Picture: Steve Humphreys

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was guest of honour at the IFA Annual General Meeting. Picture: Steve Humphreys

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was guest of honour at the IFA Annual General Meeting. Picture: Steve Humphreys

A week is a lifetime in politics, they say, and a lot has changed in the past three years for the IFA.

Back then, the association was still reeling from a pay scandal, we had a rural Taoiseach running the country and Brexit was a still a distant improbability.

Yesterday, there wasn't as much as a whisper about money, namely the IFA accounts, during lunch at its AGM.

Senior IFA members instead, while mulling over the lunch choice in the Farm Centre's canteen of bacon, chicken and beef in the form of cottage pie, were more interested in what the 'I'm trying to eat less meat' Taoiseach might say or do when he addressed them at dinner that evening.

After all, the dinner was always going to have beef.

IFA president Joe Healy had spoken earlier in the day of 'loose commentary' of late, no doubt meaning the Taoiseach's recent statement that he was planning on reducing the amount of meat he eats.

The Taoiseach could eat what he liked, Mr Healy said, but he should continue to show support for the top quality products the Irish agri-sector had to offer.

"We won't be driven off the land by keyboard warriors, quacks or lifestyle gurus," Mr Healy said.

Varadkar, in turn, when he addressed the farmers said politicians should be careful about what they eat and they have to be careful about what they say they eat.

He drew comparison with the late George HW Bush, who said he hated broccoli and had it banned from the White House, only for outraged farmers to send him 10 tonnes of the vegetable.

In fairness, according to Healy, Irish farmers will judge the Taoiseach and his Government on their delivery of the big ticket items, such as Brexit, CAP, climate change and trade deals.

Regardless, the Taoiseach didn't disappoint the farmers and had the beef. He had no real choice, though, it was beef or beef in a room full of farmers.

But he did have some words to share with farmers about climate change.

He asked them to be aware of the science and said his Government needs their advice on climate action, and what they can do to reduce emissions without reducing their incomes but might increase them instead.

Difficult words, no doubt, for the farmers to stomach.

After all they had just listened to their president speak of a Brexit Armageddon as our largest market for beef, the UK, looks likely to leave the EU with no deal and leave us with no market for over 50pc of our beef export, worth over €1.2bn.

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed brought little cheer to events yesterday.

He warned beef farmers that they face a tougher time than they are currently experiencing if there is a no-deal Brexit and WTO tariffs hit our exports.

His affirmation that there would be no new direct financial supports between now and March 29 did not go down well with the room, who were only too quick to remind him that millions were found in Europe for dairy farmers in recent years.

Twelve months is a long time and one wonders whether the Taoiseach's words yesterday and his actions over the coming weeks will be enough for farmers to continue backing the traditional farmers' party.

It remains to be seen.

There is only one thing we can be certain about in 12 months' time - beef will most certainly still be on the menu in Farm Centre. How high it will be piled up remains to be seen.

Irish Independent