16 November 2008

The West awakes and rejects Budget Cuts

It appears that the Irish government has very few friends and supporters left for its outrageous policies and in particular for the shambolic 2009 Budget it presented more than a month ago.

Ireland's farmers, who have in the past always been a strong bulwark for Fianna Fáil and were subsequently awarded with generous - and often even over-generous - grants, subsidies and compensations, are turning now in droves against their former champions as well.

This is quite a change from the last minute change of mind they had earlier this year, when they joined the YES camp for the Lisbon Treaty shortly before the referendum, after having been against the treaty for months before.
But things have changed since June, and we are living under quite different conditions now. The farmers - like almost everyone else - are feeling the pinch of economic recession and financial instability. And - with all respect - Ireland's farmers have always known on which side their bread is buttered. So now they are joining in ever larger numbers the majority and call a spade a spade, or - in this case - the government for what it is: incompetent, arrogant and not up to the job of leading the country.

The growing anger in the farming community is especially strong in the west of Ireland, which is still an agricultural area with very little industry and infrastructure. Having lived in the west myself for some time, I know these farmers. They are very sturdy, conservative people, slow to anger and mainly interested in getting on with their own business.
But once they begin to grumble, pick up placards and go to demonstrations, they really mean it and will not sit down quietly again until their grievances are addressed and their problems are solved.

Today more than 5000 of them gathered in Carrick-on-Shannon, Co. Leitrim, outnumbering the local population of this small county town.
They are concerned and annoyed, feel betrayed and were sending the government a clear and unmistakeable message. "The West rejects 25% cuts" was written on thousands of placards they carried. It was in fact like a sea of messages, but they all said the same and showed a unity seldom seen in that part of the country.

Addressing the gathering, Padraig Walshe (right), the outspoken president of the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) accused Fianna Fáil of "forgetting their roots and letting down the west of Ireland".

The IFA estimates that the 2009 Budget measures will cost farmers in the west and north-west of Ireland nearly € 40 million.

Since the Budget was announced on October 14th (see my entry of that day), farmers have been holding meetings all over the country to voice their anger over cuts in investment programmes and in retirement and some livestock schemes.

The IFA is accusing the government of taking the easy option by cutting the income of farmers on marginal land, mainly in the west of Ireland.

Padraig Walshe said that "cuts in the suckler welfare and the disadvantaged areas schemes are a direct attack on the viability of low-income farmers".

As things are, we can expect more meetings like this and more demonstrations - by farmers and many other people - in Dublin. One wonders how long it will take for the government to realise that they have really messed up everything and that it is time to go and let better people govern the country.

The Emerald Islander

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