'Where's the beef, ya vegan' - Farmers demand post-Brexit support package

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar meets IFA leader Joe Healy and members protesting outside Cork City Hall where a Government Cabinet Meeting was taking place Picture: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Jokes about the smell of bull were flying as farmers brought a prize Angus bull to their protest outside the Cabinet meeting in Cork.

The Taoiseach was greeted by shouts of 'Where's the beef, ya vegan', as he was confronted outside City Hall by a crowd of up to 500 farmers demanding a €100m support package for the beef sector amid warnings some farmers are facing financial ruin from Brexit losses.

The accusation drew a smile from Leo Varadkar when he was asked to respond to the comment at his post-Cabinet meeting press conference.

"I'm not a vegan, I'm very much an omnivore. My problem is I probably eat too much of everything," he said.

But farmers said they found that hard to swallow given that some of them are facing financial ruin.

Farmers travelled from all over the country to attend the rally in support of the estimated 75,000 beef farmers who say their income has plummeted since Brexit was announced.

They said they need support now, and not in a few months as the government continues talks with the European Commission.

Farming leaders spoke directly to several government ministers, including the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Agriculture Minister Michael Creed, as they made their way in to the meeting and told them they needed to hear an announcement after the Cabinet meeting.

The IFA's Munster Regional Chairman, John Coughlan, said beef farmers have been dealing with a hard Brexit for more than two years.

"They need financial support now," he said.

As the Cabinet meeting got underway, IFA President Joe Healy addressed a large rally outside.

He said farmers can't wait any longer and he accused the Taoiseach and the government of failing beef farmers.

“Politicians have not delivered on their promises," he said.

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 24 and May 25 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."

Speaking after the Cabinet meeting, the Taoiseach said the government had a detailed discussion on the issues facing the beef sector.

He said they are very aware of how the financial distress faced by beef farmers has an impact and very significant knock-on effects across the rural economy, and the discussion focused on what they can do to help.

"It's already the case that beef farmers receive more in income supports and more in subsidies than probably any other business in Ireland," he said.

But even taking that into account, we want to do more to help and we've made a submission to the European Commission around what we might be able to do to provide additional income supports.

He said they will be pursuing that over the next two weeks.

Agriculture Minister Michael Creed also pointed out that the government has been actively exploring new beef markets and focusing on live exports.

He said Ireland opened a new beef market to China last year and hopes to open a new market to Turkey later this year.

"In fact, the volume of beef gone in to China in the first quarter of 2019 is nearly as much as what we put in in 2018," he said. "And the volume of live exports is up 34% in first three months of the year compared to the same period last year."

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