Farmers may well vote to leave the EU in any future referendum - that was the message as approximately 70 farmers took part in a Farmers for Action (FFA) protest outside the offices of the European Commission in Belfast on Monday.
The event had been organised to highlight producers continuing anger at what they perceive as the lack of action by Brussels in tackling the economic crisis now unfolding within Northern Ireland’s agriculture sectors.
Colette Fitzgerald, who heads up the commission’s activities in Northern Ireland, accepted a letter from FFA co-ordinator William Taylor highlighting the realistic prospect of UK farmers’ saying ‘no’ in the upcoming EU membership referendum, unless Brussels acts to immediately increase support levels to agriculture.
Ms Fitzgerald committed to forward the letter to Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker as a matter of priority.
“We are telling President Juncker that the EU must face facts,” said FFA Taylor.
“With the EU average farmer age now approaching 60, members of the next generation are protesting today.
“If these producers do not get EU financial results immediately they and their young families will be gone out of the industry, either by emigration or a complete change of occupation. This will leave the EU with a massive food security problem.”
Mr Taylor also pointed out that farmers will vote ‘no’ in any upcoming EU membership referendum unless Europe puts food security at the top of its agenda.
“This is about agriculture, not just any old industry. Farmers need a realistic safety net.”
Mr Taylor also confirmed that further protests will follow.
“I hope to be in Brussels for the crisis summit on agriculture, which will be taking place on September 7th,” he said.
“Politicians respond to two fundamental drivers: the power of protest and the prospect of losing votes. On that basis I would be hopeful that some movement will be evident from the European Commission at the beginning of September, in terms of delivering real support to farmers.
“However, FFA has not ruled out the option of protesting again in Belfast, should the politicians fail to act on behalf of farmers over the coming weeks,” Mr Taylor concluded.