WITH election fever in the air, the last thing an increasingly nervous Fine Gael/Labour coalition wants to see is the sight of frustrated farmers demonstrating against falling prices in key sectors of agriculture.
However, as the impact of the international commodity slump hits farming families, the big problem facing the Government is that PR hypes of a bonanza resulting from changes in the dairy industry have backfired.
Following a weekend of protest in the capital where an estimated 80,000 people marched against water charges, the Coalition needed yesterday’s demonstration by hundreds of farmersoutside the EU Commission offices in Dublin like the proverbial hole in the head. It has to said, however, that farming organisations and their advisers were also responsible for raising expectations following the abolition of restrictive EU milk quotas on April 1. As a result, many took the risk of borrowing heavily to upgrade production units.
That’s why they want Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney to lobby the EU specifically with the aim of protecting the income of families in the worst-hit sectors of dairying, pig meat, and grain production. Ironically, former Fine Gael minister Phil Hogan, who featured centrally in the controversy surrounding the water charges, is now under pressure as EU agriculture commissioner to increase intervention prices. It’s payback time, Phil.
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