Farmers threaten to torpedo treaty over trade deal fears
More than 10,000 farmers took to the streets of Dublin yesterday over EU proposals they fear will destroy the beef and dairy industry and bring rural Ireland to its knees.
The protest coincided with the visit of European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso who told the National Forum on Europe that it would be in the interest of Irish farmers to have a quick resolution at the upcoming World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks in Switzerland.
Padraig Walshe, president of the Irish Farmers Association, said the decision to be made by EU Commissioner Peter Mandelson at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development in Geneva in May will have a huge bearing on the way farmers vote on the Lisbon Treaty.
He told the rally outside Leinster House that since the turn of the year Mr Mandelson had completely undermined the position of the Irish farmer and warned: "Sell us out and we will have our say on the 12th of June."
In a simple message of warning to the Government, Mr Walshe said to great applause: "Don't come back from Geneva having sold us out. Thousands of workers in the food industry will lose their jobs, hundreds of businesses will have to close down. Don't expect us to do your bidding in the referendum."
He attacked previous EU trade directives affecting agriculture, saying assurances given about the sugar beet industry before the Nice Treaty has seen that industry shut down.
In a clear indication of the effect the trade talks are having on rural Ireland, Mr Walshe made a simple observation: "We are all here today to defend our own interests, because if you shut down Irish farming -- you shut down rural Ireland. Our battle is your battle, we have had our battles with the meat factories in the past, but today we are on the one side."