Mary Coughlan (right), the Minister for Agriculture, is taking a recent threat by Irish farmers to vote NO in the forthcoming Lisbon Treaty referendum "seriously". Speaking on RTÉ Radio 1, Ms. Coughlan said she was working to ensure that the outcome of the World Trade negotiations is balanced, with the appropriate protections for Irish farmers and the agri-food sector.
Responding to the minister's statement, Padraig Walshe, President of the Irish Farmers Association (IFA), said he had no disagreement with her stark assessment of the damage to Ireland's farm and food industry posed by WTO negotiations.
Meanwhile Fine Gael MEP Mairéad McGuinness said she is "concerned about the mounting anger among farmers" ahead of the Lisbon Treaty referendum on June 12th. She urged the government to come out very strongly and say it will use its veto on World Trade Talks.
But Education Minister Mary Hanafin said that "the [Irish] government knows that farmers have genuine concerns about what is being proposed at the talks". But she insisted that it was "too early to use the Irish veto". She stated that it was about getting an agreement that is balanced both within agriculture and between trade and agriculture.
Well, she would know, of course... But what she does know - as a former Fianna Fail treasurer and a woman born in Tipperary - is how to hoodwink and pay off the farmers, as FF has done it so successfully in the run-up to previous referenda.
It will be interesting to see if Ireland's farmers are this time wise and forward-looking, and actually mean what they say. In that case they would have to vote NO in the referendum, and that might well defeat it.
Or are Irish farmers still more after the quick buck made now than after a solid income over many years? In two months we will know.
On Thursday more than 10,000 farmers had taken part in a demonstration in Dublin, protesting against current European proposals in negotiations on world trade. Farmers from all parts of the country came to the march, and original turnout expectations were well exceeded.
The farmers gathered at Leinster House and marched to Dublin Castle, where European Commission President Jose Manuel Barosso was addressing the National Forum on Europe.
Farmers are unhappy about the stance EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson is taking in the current negotiations on world trade. They say that the beef and dairy sector could be virtually wiped out.
IFA President Padraig Walshe said the current proposals to cut import tariffs will have an impact on how farmers vote in the Lisbon Treaty referendum. He warned that farmers would not support a European Commission that sells out their industry.
The European Commission's Director General for Trade, the Irishman David O'Sullivan, defended the proposals, saying that if implemented, the deal would take effect over a number of years.
EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barosso stated that a deal at the Word Trade Organisation talks would be in Ireland's interest, but did not say in which way. He said getting a deal sooner rather than later would guarantee the reform of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) agreed four years ago. But he warned that delaying the deal could mean that a review of the CAP starting in the autumn could result in a less favourable outcome for farmers.
Farmers are angry over the stance being taken by EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson in the current round of negotiations to liberalise the rules on world trade. They say Ireland's livestock industry would be decimated, and there would be cuts in the dairy, grain and other sectors. This could result in 50,000 rural jobs being lost and 100,000 cattle farmers being made redundant.
The Emerald Islander