Irish President Michael D Higgins criticises EU for promoting 'US style' of farming

Irish President Michael D Higgins at the National Ploughing Championships Credit: PA

The President of Ireland has accused the United Nations of “losing credibility” in a Ploughing Championship speech as he called on both citizens and farmers to “play their part” in combating climate change challenges.

Michael D Higgins also criticised the EU for promoting a “US style” of agriculture while addressing farmers and families gathered at the main stage at the National Ploughing Championships.

While criticising countries who had not achieved global sustainability goals, he said that the United Nations (UN) was “falling”.

“It is unable to stop war, it is unable to end famine, it is unable to stop conflicts, it is unable to manage migration, and it will be saved by the influence of countries like Ireland who have no… other aim or ambition other than to have a safe, sustainable and peaceful world,” he said.

Mr Higgins also warned that biodiversity was being destroyed and that the “darkest period of climate change consequences have begun” as farmers attended an event showcasing their craft and way of life.

He also praised the Ploughing Championship and said he was heartened by the number of young people who he saw attending.

He said the “last thing we need” is a conflict between rural and urban Ireland, and that customers “should support those who sustainably produce our food” amid inflation.

Thousands of people braved damp and windy weather on Tuesday morning to trudge across muddy farmlands for the major showcase of farming and rural life in Ireland’s midlands.

Despite the day brightening later on, some cars needed a push to get out of the makeshift car parks, located in nearby fields.

People in raincoats and plastic ponchos plodded past more than 1,000 stalls selling farming equipment and exhibiting techniques on the first day of the agricultural event.

Ireland’s National Ploughing Championships, hosted this year in Ratheniska, Co Laois, is hoping to attract around 300,000 attendees for its 92nd outing.

More than 200 acres of ploughing competitions will be hosted over three days, with more than 320 competitors.

Sheep shearing and a “country style best” fashion show will also feature, as will an attempt to break the Guinness World Record for welly throwing.

Mr Higgins said in his midday speech that the competition represented the “complexities of modern Ireland”, and warned that life in rural Ireland “is not just a zone of production to market conditions”, but “a space of life and living”.

He said that necessary change would not be easy and accused the European Union of “promoting a United States style of agriculture for a very long time”.

“I do think that farm families have to be supported and secured. I believe that this in the future will in fact have to be by direct payments. Farm family security cannot be delivered by the market,” he said.

The event comes as political pressure is put on Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue by some farmers over an EU obligation that Ireland should reduce the volume of nitrogen it produces per hectare.

Farmers held protests at Fianna Fail and Fine Gael’s respective think-in events last week, insisting the cut in the nitrate limit would force them to reduce herd sizes.

At a media event with Mr McConalogue, John O’Brien, vice chair of the Barryroe Co-Op, questioned the minister and said limiting the nitrate level would make “no difference” to water quality in Ireland.

“You need to get fighting,” he told the minister.

Politicians have attempted to show their commitment to rural and farming life to punters, with political parties having set up stalls and ministers holding several events throughout Tuesday.

Minister for Enterprise Simon Coveney said the event represented “something special” in Ireland as he arrived at the National Ploughing Association’s headquarters.

He and Mr Higgins paid tribute to Anna May McHugh, who has been the managing director of the Ploughing Championships for 50 years.

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