‘Where’s the beef? – rebellious farmers round on ‘vegan Leo the lamb’ as ministers have away-day

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

Cormac McQuinn

THE ministerial road-trip all began so well.

Beaming Cabinet members featured in a video posted online by Culture Minister Josepha Madigan from the bus.

She said she was wearing red especially for the trip to Cork, while Agriculture Minister Michael Creed chipped in: “Up the rebels.”

He may have regretted those words when they arrived to the “real capital” and found that hundreds of farmers had laid siege to City Hall.

Tractors were doing circuits of the block, as well as an electronic billboard of Fianna Fáil European election candidate Billy Kelleher.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was greeted with heckles of “where’s the beef, ye vegan”. Farmers hadn’t forgotten his remarks earlier this year that he was cutting down on meat to reduce his carbon footprint. Comments that had gone down like a lead balloon among those in the beef sector suffering the effects of low prices amid fears of a looming Brexit.

If some ministers were rattled, it wasn’t the case with Finian McGrath, who was pictured posing with a live bull that had been brought along for the occasion. That’s despite the sign in the background that read “Leo the lamb, where is the money for our beef?”

Irish Farmers’ Association president Joe Healy took his opportunity to confront Mr Varadkar, telling him farmers wanted a “clear message” from ministers on the help they were going to offer. Mr Varadkar replied that the Government wanted to do more for beef farmers, but also said they already received far more support than other businesses.

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That’s not the message farmers – who are demanding a €100m aid package – wanted to hear.

As ministers retreated inside, Mr Healy addressed the troops. “We’re here in the rebel county and this is very much a farmers’ rebellion and we make no apologies for it,” he said. He warned that if help wasn’t forthcoming, the industry faced “extinction”.

“That’s the message that we were getting across to every minister and the Taoiseach who went through that door today,” he said.

Inside, it was probably a relief for ministers to be discussing issues like the appointment of a Central Bank governor and proposals to allow altruistic organ donations for the first time.

The farmers’ concerns were discussed and Rural Affairs Minister Michael Ring later appeared alongside Mr Varadkar in the post-meeting press conference to outline Government efforts for regional development.

Mr Varadkar said everyone in Government acknowledged that beef farmers were struggling and said the European Commission was being pursued about additional income supports.

He also denied he was a vegan, saying: “I’m very much an omnivore. My problem, if anything, is I probably eat too much of everything.”

The coast was clear when ministers left City Hall.

But the giddiness of a Cabinet away-day may be somewhat diminished after their experience in the rebel county.

Online Editors