City protests alienating people, Creed warns farmers

Rural revolt: Farmers protest in St Stephen's Green in Dublin city centre in November
Rural revolt: Farmers protest in St Stephen's Green in Dublin city centre in November
Michael Creed. Picture: Arthur Carron

John Downing and Ciaran Moran

Agriculture Minister Michael Creed has warned farmers that blocking city traffic with tractor protests only alienates urban-dwellers who they really need as allies.

He said 2019 was in many ways the year of the “pop-up farmer union” with some of them resorting to disrupting Dublin traffic to draw attention to their cause.

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“At a time when we need friends, and we need to influence people in all the debates – not least on how to meet our obligations in the fight against climate change – that kind of activity is counterproductive,” Mr Creed said.

In an interview, Mr Creed said the deep divisions among farmer unions were a matter of serious concern for the country generally. 

The Irish Independent now understands that another tractor protest in Dublin is being planned for next week, on January 15.

Mr Creed said that in last September's beef crisis talks, three separate groups laid claim to the title of 'Independent Farmers of Ireland'.

"So, you have three iterations of the 'Independent Farmers of Ireland' and then you have a group called the 'Individual Farmers of Ireland'. It's just bizarre and it's wildly counterproductive," he said.

"We need to consolidate and get coherence back to farmers' voices - but that's an issue for the farming leaders."

The Agriculture Minister said it was not reasonable that groups were claiming to be national representatives of farmers on the basis of a meeting or two. But he acknowledged that 2019 was a tough year for farmers generally, and for beef farmers in particular.

Mr Creed also warned the meat processors that unless "there is a sea-change in the attitude to relationships with farmers", it was very hard to see the industry surviving.

He said the beef factory managements must take a leaf from the dairy co-operatives' playbook, which have a very sophisticated level of engagement with their suppliers.

Meanwhile, he insisted Ireland would not take a Brexit cheque and instead focus on the best possible trade deal.

He insisted he would not discuss compensation for Irish losses. "Doing that would risk compromising Irish interests. It risks supporting the view in the EU that 'sure, look, Ireland will take a cheque'," he said.

"We're going hell for leather for the optimum trade deal that we can get."

His comments come as a group of farmers are planning another tractor protest, potentially for January 15.

Supporters of the protests are understood to be buoyed by what they see as the success of past demonstrations.

They have claimed their actions highlighted the plight of farmers to the public, forced Mr Creed into a meeting, and got injunctions removed against farmers involved in protests last summer.

It is as yet unclear how many tractors will be involved in the planned protest next week, and gardaí have yet to be notified. The protests to date have caused significant disruption but have not been supported by traditional farm groups.

Irish Independent