Saturday 25 November 2017

Enormous show of strength and masterclass in peaceful protest by farmers

Thousands of farmers protest outside Leinster House in Dublin
Thousands of farmers protest outside Leinster House in Dublin
Thousands of farmers protest outside Leinster House in Dublin
Thousands of farmers protest outside Leinster House in Dublin
Thousands of farmers protest outside Leinster House in Dublin
Thousands of farmers protest outside Leinster House in Dublin
Thousands of farmers protest outside Leinster House in Dublin
Thousands of farmers protest outside Leinster House in Dublin
Thousands of farmers protest outside Leinster House in Dublin
Thousands of farmers protest outside Leinster House in Dublin

The military precision of the whole operation would have brought tears to the eyes of Augustus Caesar or to those of arch-strategist and patron saint of farming footwear, the Duke of Wellington.

March rations of freshly made, clingfilm-wrapped ham, turkey and beef sandwiches were only flying out of the back of the large truck, washed down with cartons of milk and bottles of water.

In a mere forty minutes, an impressive 10,000 sambos were handed out.

As thousands of farmers streamed off buses from all four provinces, they were given green and yellow placards before being corralled into neat lines behind the tractors, creamery trucks and a hulking combine harvester. There were home-produced placards too. One large banner read: "Supermarkets get the cream. We get the bullsh*t."

And dairy farmer David Thompson, from Pallasgate, Co Limerick, had stuck two (toy) cats to a whiteboard, which proclaimed: "Pussy Cat Leaders Wake Up -- Save the Family Farm."

Nor was this his first attempt at protest art. "The last time I had a bullock's head. And the time before I had a pig's head," he explained. "A real one, there was blood dripping out of it," he added with relish.

This was an enormous march, and the 20,000 turn-out doubled the expectations of the organisers. There were protest newcomers and protest veterans. And they truly came from all over. There was cattle farmer Bertie Latimer from Rockcorry, Co Monaghan, who was worried about the rising cost of feed for his herd, and Kildare pig farmer Pat O'Flaherty, who was protesting against the percentage taken by the supermarkets. "My concern is when I sell a pig, I get €2 a kilo, and the supermarket gets €10 a kilo," said Pat.

"We're not asking for the customer to pay more, but for the supermarkets to get a smaller cut."

Leitrim farmer, John Ward, remembered going on his first march in October 1966. This was the Mother of all Marches, when over 30,000 farmers descended on Dublin and held a famous 20-day sit-in outside the Department of Agriculture when Agriculture Minister Charlie Haughey refused to meet a delegation from the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA).

"He called us a pipsqueak organisation," recalled John, who had walked from Carrick-on-Shannon to Dublin on that occasion.

Some 300,000 people work in the agricultural sector, and it's worth €9bn a year in exports. And although the dreadful summer badly affected this year's harvest, farmers have had less to complain about than workers in many other sectors. And as a sign the industry is blooming, the march coincided with the announcement of almost 900 new jobs at Kerry Foods.

But still they're rattling sabres, pitchforks and placards at the Government, as haggling begins in the EU over various grants and payments which may be restructured or scrapped.

From the back of the giant truck-turned-platform set up on Kildare Street, IFA president John Bryan warned Enda Kenny (who didn't venture out of Leinster House) that he "must hold the line on the CAP budget -- if that means flying over to Angela Merkel, it has to be done," he roared, to cheers.

But perhaps a hopeful portent was present in the person of German woman Sirian Klemur from Stuttgart, who had turned up for the protest.

Sirian had spent three months working on a farm in Ballinasloe last year. "I'm here to support Irish farmers," she declared. So did she think that Angela Merkel was being a bit hard on the Irish?

"I think she might be a bit tough," she agreed. "She's a very tough woman."

Indeed. But despite the huge numbers, this was a masterclass in peaceful protest. They picked up their rubbish, broke no windows, and even had a special thank-you before they left.

"Let's have a round of applause for the gardai," said the chap from the stage.

And the farmers obliged. There wasn't a gore-spattered pig's head in sight.

Irish Independent

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