“Irish Government can block Mercosur Trade Deal” – Carthy & Tully call for campaign to stop ‘disastrous’ trade deal
“The Irish government has the power to stop Mercosur and we intend to force them to do just that”.
With these words Cavan Sinn Féin representative Pauline Tully opened a public meeting in the Hotel Errigal in Cootehill last Wednesday evening. The meeting, packed to capacity, which was co-hosted by Tully and her Sinn Féin colleague Matt Carthy MEP, heard representatives of the major farm organisations outline the crisis with which Irish farming has found itself, a crisis that will exacerbate if the Mercosur trade deal is ratified.
In his opening remarks Carthy said that the future of the Irish family farm as we know it is under threat. “Considering that agriculture is our most important indigenous sector that means that most towns and villages across this state are also under threat. We have a responsibility to support our family farmers because they are the lifeblood of our local economy” he said. He said that the threat of Brexit coupled with the price pressures that farmers are already under and the fact the European Commission is proposing a 15% cut in the CAP budget means that family farming is under unprecedented pressure. To put the prospect of the Mercosur trade deal into the mix presents a disastrous vista, he stated.
Throughout the meeting reference was made to the recent series of protests organised by beef farmers. Pauline Tully, who has regularly attended the Ballyjamesduff protests, reiterated Sinn Féin’s support and solidarity with the protesting farmers and called on the government to intervene to avoid an escalation.
During his comments Matt Carthy said that farmers would not be protesting, especially during the busy Summer months, unless their backs were genuinely to the wall. “The fact that farmers have remained at factory gates for so long is evidence enough that they are at wits end” he remarked.
“How then, at this time of crisis for our farming communities, are we faced with the prospect of an additional 100,000 tonnes of beef from South America entering the EU market?” he asked.
He suggested that the answer is simple. “Because this deal was negotiated at the behest of the German government in the interests of their car manufacturing sector. Irish governments should have done what the Germans did, ie put their country’s interests first!” Carthy pointed out that a Fianna Fáil government gave the mandate to the European Commission to negotiate this deal back in 1999 and even then they knew that the outcome could only be bad for Irish agriculture. Several governments since could have withdrawn Ireland’s support for the talks and brought them to a halt but none did. “But”, he contended, “there is one last chance!”
The Sinn Féin MEP explained that the European Commissioner responsible for trade Cecilia Malmstrom has confirmed that the deal is a ‘mixed agreement’. That means that it needs to be ratified by every government and national parliament. In effect, Ireland has a veto. “Considering that the Dáil has already voted in favour of a Sinn Féin motion calling for the rejection of Mercosur the government has an obligation to inform the commission that it will veto”.
Carthy said: “This deal will devastate the Irish beef sector. It will be disastrous for the poultry sector, so important to Cavan Monaghan. It will be bad for the pigmeat sector and brings no benefits to any indigenous industries, including Dairy despite what has been suggested. It is designed to benefit the German car industry and multinational corporations. There is nothing in this deal for Ireland.
“Mercosur exposes the hypocrisy of political leaders on climate change. To suggest that farmers in Ireland, who are among the most sustainable in the world, should curtail production while then supporting the importation of Hundreds of Thousands of tonnes of meat from the far end of the world – where rain forests are being literally burnt to the ground to allow for expansion – is ludicrous and deeply insulting to the intelligence of the people of Europe”.
“The Irish government must reject Mercosur and they must do it now” he insisted.
The strength of feeling on the Mercosur deal was evident in the fact that all farm organisations present; the Irish Farmers Association (IFA), the Irish Cattle & Sheep farmers Association (ICSA) and the Beef Plan Movement were united in echoing the Sinn Féin call for the agreement to be rejected by the Irish government.
Nigel Renaghan, the Ulster/ North Leinster Regional chair of the IFA stated that his organisation intend to campaign against the deal because Europe is already 102% self-sufficient in beef and there can be no argument for agreeing to supplant this with lower quality beef from Latin America. He also pointed out that although the biggest threat contained in the deal is the risk it poses to the beef sector, it also contains 180,000 tonnes of poultry. As a poultry farmer, he is very aware of the destabilising impact this could have.
Eamon Corley, representing the Beef Plan Movement spoke about the journey the organisation has underwent over the last 12 months which culminated in the statewide factory protests over the Summer months.
Corley said that farmers feel this is a last stand, the price they are being offered of €3.45 per kg is far below the cost of production and he has been taking calls from farmers who are facing a real prospect of having to stop farming as it has become completely unsustainable. He described the frustration of the outcome of discussions with Meat Industry Ireland and the Minister, both failing to recognise that farmers are at breaking point and a new, fairer pricing system must be found.
Edmund Graham, National Beef Chairperson of the ICSA recounted his outrage at the discussions when Meat Industry Ireland made its offer. He asked the pertinent question “Where is the rest of it?!” when they wrote their offer on a white board. He said that every farmer needs a better price for their product and that the offer made by the industry was insulting. He agreed that Mercosur, if adopted, could be the final straw for the beef sector in Ireland.
Mr. Graham’s colleague and ISCA Beef Vice-chairman, John Cleary, endorsed this position and also spoke about his dissatisfaction with the talks. He mentioned farmers have an ageing profile, with the average age now 69. Urgent action was required if the Irish Family Farm model was to survive, he said.
In a lively, and often heated, debate, members of the audience repeatedly expressed their frustration with what was descried by one contributor as “the sell-out of farmers by this government”.
Many were surprised by the contention by Matt Carthy that the government can put a stop to the Mercosur deal – “For Gods sake, why haven’t they done it so?” asked one person passionately. The response was stark, the government will reject the deal if the political pressure is strong enough. Carthy urged all farmers to exert maximum pressure on all elected representatives “but especially Fine Gael and the Fianna Fáil reps who are keeping them in power”.
A number of those present had attended protests (some had to leave the meeting early to return to the Ballyjamesduff picket. One asked Nigel Renaghan whether the IFA would support any farmer who ends up in court over the current protests. Reneghan confirmed that the IFA was already in court with a barrister and solicitor ready to defend farmers being threatened with injunctions by the meat factories. All other farm reps confirmed that they would stand with and support any farmers who face legal proceedings.
They were also several proposals from the floor to rebalance the scales in favour of the farmers. Suggestions were made for beef farmers to examine the possibility of establishing a co-op factory and many voiced support for the Sinn Féin proposal to ban below cost selling by retailers.
Much ire was directed towards Ireland’s commissioner, Phil Hogan, with one farmer suggesting that the government’s decision to reappoint him just a week after the announcement of the Mercosur deal was a deeply cynical and insulting move. He claimed that Phil Hogan had betrayed Irish farmers in the interest of self-promotion, his advocacy for the Mercosur deal may well have endeared him to many in the hierarchy of the European Commission but lost him any remaining support from Irish farmers.
Matt Carthy closed the meeting by committing, in conjunction with the farm organisations, to apply pressure to the Irish Government to reject Mercosur. In articulating Sinn Féin’s proposals to address the holistic challenges facing Irish farmers he outlined what he called were the 3Fs required: A Fair price for product, Fair play for farmers when dealing with the Department, and a Fair CAP which distributes direct payments towards the farmers that need it most. He confirmed that he, Pauline Tully and the Sinn Féin team including Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin would continue to work for this radical action on behalf of the family farmers of Ireland.
Matt Carthy’s campaign against the Mercosur trade deal and in favour of a new dispensation for farmers and rural communities also saw packed crowds at public meetings he co-hosted in Letterkenny, Co. Donegal and Maam Cross, Co. galway.
This campaign, clearly, is only going to intensify.