Fine Gael vows it will only vote for EU trade deal that protects Irish farmers

By Aine McMahon, PA

Fine Gael has pledged it will only vote for an EU trade agreement that ensures a level playing field for farmers, if they are re-elected.

The party has promised to protect farmers in its election manifesto, pledging to safeguard farm incomes against Brexit if re-elected.

It has promised to “negotiate a strong Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) budget with a particular emphasis on supporting younger farmers”.

Speaking at Fermoy Mart in Co Cork on Tuesday, Deputy Irish Taoiseach Simon Coveney said the party is committed to protecting Irish agriculture in the next phase of Brexit.

He said: “We have until the end of the year to put a trade agreement in place with the United Kingdom. I was with Michel Barnier yesterday and we spent a lot of time talking about farming and fishing. He’s somebody who understands this brief, only too well.

“If we do not succeed in getting a good trade deal in place, then the five billion euros of food that we sell to the UK each year becomes a trade that that will be put under threat or if we can’t get a seamless trade deal that doesn’t have any tariffs and doesn’t have any quotas attached to it.”

Mr Coveney said Fine Gael’s role in preventing a hard border being put up and helping to restore a devolved Government in Northern Ireland means it is best placed to deal with the next phase of Brexit negotiations.

He said: “With this election, it is about who do you trust as farmers, to protect the beef sector and the dairy sector and the other sectors that export to the UK and have such reliance on British consumers in terms of our products?

“These are serious issues, and they impact on every farm in the country, and by extension on every rural community in the country as well.

“We are the party that would work with farmers, not blame them like other parties do in relation to the climate challenges.

“We are the party that has a track record of working with farmers to make sure that the transition that farmers need to make is one that can be profitable, that can be sustainable and most importantly, can keep family farms intact across this country because that is what this is all about, over 130,000 farm families, whether they’re producing sheep, beef, pigs, poultry or dairy.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Brexit is only at “half time” and said he wanted his party to stay on and negotiate the next part of Brexit negotiations.

“I will be using my political contacts I have built up over the past two years to fight for a good budget for CAP as part of the new EU seven-year budget because CAP is absolutely essential to sustain farm incomes and our model of family farming here in Ireland.”

“We need to make sure that any future trade deals that the European Union enters into give our farmers a level playing field and protect the environment, and that’s going to be particularly relevant.

“When it comes to trade deals like Mercosur for example, but also potential future trade deals that could be done with the United States or Australia or New Zealand, we are going to insist that there’s a level playing field for farmers and that the environment is protected before we vote for any trade deal.”