The Minister for Agriculture has said the controversial Mercosur trade deal is “not a done deal” after over a thousand farmers protested outside the Dáil.
The free trade deal between the EU, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay is the largest Europe has ever signed – covering a population of 780 million people.
The plan, which will allow the South American countries to export 99,000 tonnes of beef to the EU every year, has been heavily criticised in Ireland amid concerns over its effect on the world’s climate and its impact on Irish farmers.
More than 1,000 farmers from the Beef Plan Movement protested outside Leinster House this afternoon warning that an influx of cheaper beef will damage their industry.
This evening meanwhile, the Dáil has been debating a motion calling on the Government to reject it.
Agriculture Minister Michael Creed told the House that the Government can still secure concessions to help struggling farmers.
“It is not a done deal in terms of the proposal,” he said.
“We should collaboratively use out intervening period over the next two years to shape the detail.
“I have made the analogy previously [...] deciding to buy a house and signing the detailed contract are very, very different realities.
Independent TD Mattie McGrath said the deal is “outrageous” and took aim at Ireland’s EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan for his role in getting it agreed.
“It is a sell-out and what do we expect from big Phil – the destroyer, who ran riot in this country when he was here,” he said.
“And now he is running it in Europe and you have the cheek to appoint him again.
“Jobs for the boys.
“But I’ll tell you something, you saw those Beef Plan farmers today, we met the IFA (Irish Farmers Association) yesterday and tomorrow we will have sheep farmers coming up here.
“They will tear you out of Government because they are sick and tired of you. You have walked on the people of rural Ireland. You have walked on the little people because all you care about is the banks.”
The protesting farmers this afternoon said the deal will cripple their already struggling incomes.
“At the end of the day, if something isn’t done and if a stand isn’t made, there is no future for an awful lot of farms,” one said.
“An awful lot of farms are struggling anyway to find successors to have any interest whatsoever in the business simply because their physically is no living anymore for people in it.”
“If you are tell us one day you want to get rid of our beef farms because you want to improve the climate and then you destroy the climate in Brazil and the rainforests and you allow beef to come in here,” said another. “Do we look stupid or what?”
There are 283 million cattle in Brazil and Argentina alone – compared to seven million in Ireland.
The Irish Farmers Association has warned that the deal will lead to a loss of €700m to the agricultural sector.
The European Commission has insisted the deal protects the environment – by obliging those that sign it to “effectively implement” climate pledges made under the Paris Agreement.
One of the pledges would require Brazil to end illegal deforestation by 2030 and restore and replant 12 million hectares of forest every year.