Ministers challenged to meet 150,000 angry farmers at festival
Angry farmers have challenged government ministers to attend the National Ploughing Championships, which open tomorrow.
The Irish Farmers Association threw down the gauntlet to politicians in a bid to highlight the thousands of jobs in agri-business reliant on farming.
"It is time for politicians and senior civil servants to wake up to the irreparable damage that their repeated draconian cuts will have on farming and the food sector," IFA President Padraig Walshe said.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen failed to attend the National Show in Tullamore last month.
Up to 150,000 people are expected to flock to the three-day National Ploughing Championships, which begin in Athy, Co Kildare, tomorrow.
National Ploughing Association spokesperson Anna Marie McHugh, said crowds at this year's even were not expected to match the 200,000 who attended last year's show in Kilkenny.
But organisers hope that 150,000 will attend the country's biggest farming event.
Advance sales started slowly but there was a surge of last-minute interest with sales picking up sharply last week, and particularly strong interest from school groups, according to Ms McHugh.
"I don't expect we will reach last year's record, which happened because it was the first fine week in ages, but it is looking strong now," she said.
Exhibitors bookings were similarly slow initially, but picked up near the end -- with 900 exhibitors now confirmed.
The organisers are particularly keen that more visitors will use park-and-ride facilities at Bert Bridge, just outside Athy. This will reduce traffic snarlups at the site -- on the Fennin Farm, Cardenton, about a kilometre outside the town. There are also direct bus links from Athy, Kildare and Portarlington train stations.
It is hoped the arrangements will also help attract more visitors from Dublin, who will not have to face long traffic jams if they travel by train and bus.
Conditions underfoot are "excellent" thanks to the recent spell of good weather, according to Ms McHugh. And with all heavy machinery and equipment already on site, even the showers forecast for today would not cause any major deterioration, she added.
President Mary McAleese will formally open the event tomorrow and many politicians are expected to attend.
Supporters and opponents of the Lisbon Treaty will also be setting out their stall at the championships, one of the last major public events before next week's referendum.
The HSE's National Office for Suicide Prevention will also be on hand, to give advice and leaflets on maintaining mental health during the recession.
Its Director Geoff Day said: "It is unclear how the current economic situation will impact on suicide rates, but we do know from research that increased unemployment is one of a number of key factors."
More lighthearted events include the most appropriately dressed competitions for both men and women tomorrow, with holidays on offer for the winners. Celebrity chef Neven Maguire will hold daily cookery demos at the 'Irish Farmers' Journal' stand.
The ploughing contests will be hotly contested -- with the winners of the supreme conventional and the Kverneland reversible classes representing Ireland at the World Ploughing Championships in New Zealand next year.
Entry costs €20 for adults, €15 for students and pensioners, and under-12s go free.