Fine Gael has been defeated in the Dublin parliament on a beef trade deal after furious Irish farmers made their presence known in a protest outside the Dáil.
The vote, on a Sinn Féin motion, was defeated by 84 votes to 46, with Fianna Fáil voting with Sinn Féin and other opposition parties against Leo Varadkar’s minority government.
The motion condemned the trade agreement, recently agreed between the EU and four South American countries, as “a bad deal for Ireland and for the planet” and mandated the government to oppose the deal at the EU Council of Ministers in the future.
On Wednesday, up to 1,000 beef farmers demonstrated against the deal outside Leinster House and were addressed by political supporters, including Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín. There were angry exchages as politicians, partciularly Fianna Fail TDs, were confronted on the issue.
Tabling the motion, Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley said his party “believes the EU-Mercosur trade deal is bad for Ireland, farmers and the environment.
“We want the Government to stand up for Irish interests and reject this disastrous trade deal,” he said.
“We cannot stand over a trade deal which undermines completely Ireland’s climate change targets and the Paris Agreement. We cannot support a deal which requires and facilitates the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. We cannot support a deal that sells out Irish beef farmers and accelerates a race to the bottom in the beef industry on beef quality and workers’ rights,” Mr Stanley added
Dozens of farmers’ wellies were thrown in a pile at the gates of Leinster House to highlight the impact the Mercosur deal would have on them.
The proposed agreement could mean an extra 99,000 tonnes of beef, 18,000 tonnes of poultry and 25 tonnes of pork is imported from South America.
The deal has been heavily criticised by environmental groups and beef farmers, who believe it will lead to poorer quality beef flooding the EU market at the expense of Irish farmers.
Jeremiah Lordan, a beef farmer from County Cork, was one of the hundreds of farmers who travelled to the capital to take part in the demonstration.
“Why should Brazilians cut up all this rainforest and produce beef and the Irish government are telling us that the Irish should give up the beef and plant more forestry?,” he asked.
“That’s the maddening part of it. It doesn’t make sense to me.”
Fianna Fail’s decision to vote against the government was a direct result of the farmers’ protest. The party normally suports the minority government as part of a confidence-and-supply deal.
Although the government suffered a heavy defeat, it said it does not regard the vote as binding. It has said its policy remains to examine the details of any deal before forming a view on whether to oppose it.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the Mercosur deal was a sell-out of Irish farmers and their families, who were already suffering from the uncertainty of Brexit.
“It’s devastating news for the rural economy and it flies in the face of commitments made to tackle climate change,” she said.
Ms McDonald said Varadkar was not going to convince anyone that he was protecting beef industry.
“It sounds to me like you’re quite prepared to throw farming families under the bus if it suits the interest of... maybe bigger corporate interests who might wish to export into the large South American market.”