Page last updated at 05:51 GMT, Tuesday, 29 September 2009 06:51 UK

Farmers could swing treaty vote

By Shane Harrison
BBC NI Dublin correspondent

National Ploughing Championships in Co Kildare, Ireland, 22 Sep 09
The Lisbon Treaty had caused divisions in some farming families

Farmers more than any sector of Irish society have benefited from the Republic's membership of the European Union, but last year a majority of them voted No to the Lisbon Treaty. How will they vote on Friday when Ireland considers the treaty again?

In a crowded marquee the president of the Irish Farmers Association is struggling with the background noise but trying to persuade a sceptic to support the Lisbon referendum.

The treaty aims to streamline EU decision-making but its opponents argue that it undermines national sovereignty.

Farmers, who gained most because of Ireland's membership of the European Union, last year rejected Lisbon amid concerns about the then world trade talks and their industry's future.

The IFA president, Padraig Walshe, wants a strong Yes showing from farmers this time.

"We have a population of four million people, we produce enough food for about 24 million people. Access to the European market is crucial to us," said.


"Europe has a population of 500 million people and 75% of our food goes into that market. Saying Yes to Europe helps us to win friends there and influence decision-making going forward as well."

But not everyone is convinced.

A short distance away, outside another marquee, James Reynolds, the chairman of Farmers for No, is canvassing other farmers on their way to inspect agricultural machinery.

He believes Lisbon threatens Ireland's food industry and a possible 80,000 jobs.

Lisbon posters in Dublin
A woman walks past posters urging voters to reject the Lisbon Treaty in Dublin

He claims - and the government and Irish Farmers Association dispute this - that Ireland will lose its veto at the world trade talks and this could see the end of the family farm.

What's more Lisbon, he says, will lead to enlargement and a cut in incomes.

"If we say Yes to Lisbon, we will be giving a blank cheque to Brussels to abuse farmers, to force them to become dependent on hand-outs and subsidies, which they're going to wind-down because of the accession of new states like Turkey into the union," he said.

"A farmer who votes for Lisbon is in effect a turkey voting for Christmas."

Credit crunch

With the sound of milking machines in the background, Joe McHugh, a cattle and sheep farmer with 160 acres from near Tuam in Galway in the west of Ireland, says he doesn't see himself as a turkey or any other animal.

For him, it's all about the credit crunch and political stability.

"I didn't vote the last time. I am going to vote this time because I believe we're better in the EEC and we benefit from it," he said.

"To be left out would be bad for the country and for that reason I'm going to vote Yes."

Lisbon divides some rural families, and not just on agricultural issues.

Sonya Gorman, a mother of two, is worried about the implications of Lisbon for Irish neutrality even though the government received guarantees on it from its EU partners.

She says she's inclined to vote No.

Economic reasons

"I don't want to sign something that is going to send my two boys out to war. We're probably fine for our generation but I don't know about theirs."

Her husband, Michael, didn't vote last time but will be supporting the Yes side on Friday, mainly for economic reasons.

He says: "I've no reason to vote No and it's not going to do any harm to the country. Why not give it a shot and see what happens."

The Fianna Fail-Green coalition is so unpopular that farmers, like other voters, don't believe it and want to punish politicians.

And yet at the same time they're frightened of the consequences of voting No and being seen to reject the European Union for a second time in 16 months.

Geraldine Langan, an organic farmer with three acres, from Ballydesmond in Co Kerry in the southwest, didn't vote last time but is reluctantly edging towards a Yes this time.

"Ireland voted No the last time and it puzzles me why we're going back to the polls again and we're more or less being forced to vote Yes," he said.

"What I've picked up in the last little while on it is that it could possibly be in our favour to vote Yes this time because of jobs and keeping in with the European Union."

One poll suggest that farmers will vote by a margin of four to one in favour of Lisbon on Friday.

That is almost certainly an exaggeration, but it does seem as though rural Ireland is moving from a No to a Yes position.

As for the Republic as a whole, we should have a fair indication of what way the country voted by mid-morning Saturday.

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