Sunday 26 May 2019

'Where's the beef, ye vegan' - Varadkar says he's 'very much an omnivore' after being heckled by farmers

Leo Varadkar
Photo: PA
Leo Varadkar Photo: PA
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has denied accusations by protesting beef farmers that he's a vegan.

He said he's "very much an omnivore" and added: "my problem, if anything, is I probably eat too much of everything."

It came after the Irish Farmers Association (IFA) protested as the Cabinet met in Cork City Hall.

Speaking after Cabinet Mr Varadkar said ministers had a "detailed discussion" about how the government can help beef farmers.

He said:  "Everyone in government acknowledges that beef farmers in Ireland at the moment are struggling.

"Beef prices are extremely low and as a result of that a lot of farmers are in financial distress."

He said this impacts 75,000 beef farmers and the rural economy as a whole.

"We had a discussion about that and what we might be able to do to help," he said.

Mr Varadkar said sentiment related to Brexit, weather conditions last year and an over supply of beef have impacted on prices.

He said that beef farmers probably receive more income supports an subsidies than any other businesses, but said the government want to do more to help the struggling sector.

"We made a submission to the European Commission around what we might be able to do to provide additional income supports," Mr Varadkar said.

He added that this will be pursued further in the coming weeks.

Mr Varadkar responded to the earlier heckling, saying: "Yeah I'm not a vegan for a start. I'm very much an omnivore. My problem if anything is I probably eat too much of everything."

Earlier, the Taoiseach was greeted with chants of "where's the beef, ye vegan" when he arrived in Cork for a Cabinet meeting this morning.

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan TD arrives to Cork City Hall where a Government Cabinet Meeting was taking place as IFA members protested
Pic Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan TD arrives to Cork City Hall where a Government Cabinet Meeting was taking place as IFA members protested Pic Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

The Irish Farmers Association (IFA) is mounting a protest about the situation in the beef sector in Cork City where the meeting is taking place.

The chanting is in reference to remarks made by Mr Varadkar earlier this year where he said he was eating less meat to reduce his carbon footprint.

The comments sparked a backlash from farmers and Opposition politicians.

Speaking ahead of the protest, IFA President Joe Healy said: "Beef farmers need a Brexit support package and we will be sending a strong message to the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and his Cabinet".

The beef sector is among the industries expected to be worst hit by Brexit.

In January Mr Varadkar responded to Dáil claims that his remarks on meat were “flippant” and “hurtful” to farmers.

 He said: "I didn’t give anybody dietary advice or suggest that anyone do anything.

"I was specifically asked what I was doing on climate change and I said that I was trying to eat less red meat – not giving it up."

He added: "I had a very nice Hereford steak last night".

Mr Varadkar continued saying he's trying to eat less red meat for two reasons, health and climate change.

Addressing the IFA protest Joe Healy accused the Taoiseach and the Government of failing beef farmers who have suffered losses of €100m from Brexit.

“Politicians have not delivered on their promises. Our message to the Taoiseach and his Cabinet here in Cork today is that farmers will judge politicians on their actions on this issue.

"Election Day is three weeks on Friday – May 24th, and May 25th will be judgment day,” he said.

“Today we are sending a strong message to the Government that farmers are rebelling against inaction. The Minister for Agriculture has been standing idly by, adopting a ‘ wait and see’ approach. This is not good enough,” he said.

Mr Healy demanded more support for farmers from the government and took a swipe at  the Taoiseach for his recent letter to Kylie Minogue.

He told that 1,000 farmers turned out to protest today outside City Hall today.

A ‘tractorcade’ of around 20 vehicles circled the block outside as ministers conducted their meeting.

Mr Healy said farmers are looking for the government to support an industry that’s “on its knees” and “won’t survive” unless the government intervenes.

He said farmers are looking for a support package totaling €100m, which is the equivalent of losses suffered by the industry since September.

He said: “Rather than running off on trade missions, taking fancy photographs, writing letters to pop-stars, we want those people [ministers] to give support to the real people of Ireland, the farmers of Ireland.”

He pointed out that farming employs 300,000 people both directly and indirectly.

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