Sunday 26 May 2019

Taoiseach's meeting dramatically suspended due to protesters - moments after rebellious farmers round on 'vegan Leo'

Independent Junior Minister Finian McGrath, who posed with a bull brought along by protesting farmers. Photo: Seán Defoe, Newstalk
Independent Junior Minister Finian McGrath, who posed with a bull brought along by protesting farmers. Photo: Seán Defoe, Newstalk
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

The ministerial road-trip all began so well but it took in angry farmers and disruptive protests before the day was done.

Beaming Cabinet members featured in a video posted by Culture Minister Josepha Madigan from the bus. She said she was wearing red 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.

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.

If some ministers were rattled, it wasn't the case with Finian McGrath, who was pictured posing with a 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 told the Taoiseach farmers wanted a "clear message" 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.

That's not the message farmers - who are demanding a €100m aid package - wanted.

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".

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.

Mr Varadkar said everyone in Government acknowledged beef farmers were struggling and 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."

Hours later a Fine Gael public meeting on proposals to bring in directly elected mayors in Cork and other cities was dramatically suspended due to protesters in the crowd.

Members of a group called the Connolly Youth Movement were involved in the protests.

Several protesters began to read out statements including criticisms of the homeless crisis and austerity after the economic crash. Deirdre Clune MEP suspended the meeting and warned it may have to be abandoned.

When he spoke, Mr Varadkar said: "Whatever somebody's political beliefs may be we should all be committed to democracy and we should all be committed to free speech.

"And trying to shout other people down or trying to shut down their meetings is profoundly undemocratic."

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

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Also in this section