Beef Crisis: Irish demand right to free trade

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The Independent Online
The Prime Minister was last night under pressure from Dublin and Brussels to bring about an immediate end to farmers' disruption of Irish exports into Britain.

After angry attacks in the Dail on the failure of British authorities to control the situation at ports from Wales to Scotland, Mr Blair was contacted directly by the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, to press for an end to the blockade preventing movement of Irish meat through ports, which yesterday also began to affect consignments of dairy produce.

Mr Ahern's was one of a number of Irish initiatives also involving four European Commissioners. Talks also took place in London yesterday between the Irish agriculture minister, Joe Walsh, and his British counterpart, Jack Cunningham.

In the Dail, Labour leader Ruairi Quinn said the port incidents were "a flagrant breach of international law", accusing police of "facilitating the mob in deciding which trucks would get through and which would not".

He demanded a compensation claim against British authorities come from the Irish Government itself, and not be left to private individuals. The British Ambassador should be summoned to hear the Irish complaints, Mr Quinn said.

Fine Gael leader John Bruton said Irish exporters were being denied the right to trade by a mob. He said "a strong united front" had to be presented by Dublin in defence of the rule of law, "something which we had expected would be enforced by Britain".

After Irish complaints to the agriculture secretary in London had failed to stop the blockade for a fourth night, Mr Ahern told the Dail it was time for Dr Cunningham "to put his good words into action".

He confirmed Dublin was exerting pressure on the EU Transport Commissioner, the former Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock, to put pressure on his British Labour colleagues.

The Taoiseach pledged his support in efforts to secure compensation from London.

The president of the Irish Farmers' Association, John Donnelly, met Mr Kinnock and urged the right of access to British markets be protected. Earlier, after contacts with three other commissioners, he was given assurances that the commission was reminding Britain of its treaty obligations.

Mr Donnelly said: "We're part of the single market. We're entitled to get our product to the market place.

"It is disgraceful that the British police stand aside and allow those farmers to inspect what is on Irish trucks and then decide to turn them back."

He added: "We are not responsible for the problems Welsh farmers have with their own Government. It's about time they took (London) on and not be taking on Irish beef farmers who also have a very serious income problem."