EU ministers corralled by Irish farmers with a beef

Madding crowd: Farmers demonstrating yesterday outside the hotel in Killarney Photograph: Michael MacSweeney
Click to follow
Agriculture ministers, including Douglas Hogg and the EU Farm Commissioner, Franz Fischler, were besieged in a hotel here yesterday by angry Irish beef producers.

Anger at the inability of EU governments to address the difficulties facing farmers and at Britain's failure to eradicate BSE, or "mad-cow disease", boiled over as news of another fudge reached what had been a big but orderly demonstration. Ireland's 10,000 beef producers say they face losses of pounds 200m this year and they blame London. The siege reduced to farce the efforts by Ireland, holding the EU presidency, to produce a charm offensive for the European visitors.

Mr Fischler was helicoptered out over the 6,000-strong crowd to get his plane back to Brussels and was last seen scurrying across the lawn, chased by a few mavericks among the mainly peaceful demonstrators. Police over- reacted to the threat of farmer violence or perhaps embarrassing publicity, by locking dozens of European journalists in the hotel's media centre.

Ivan Yates, the Irish Farm Minister, made his way outside to appeal for calm but could hardly be be heard. "No one is denying you the right to protest but I have an international group inside in this hotel." A huge roar went up. In desperation, Mr Yates roared back: "There are some women inside who are very upset." That drew an even bigger roar. In front of the hotel the stretch limousines waiting to take Mr Hogg and other ministers and their wives to Listowel Races were plastered with posters demanding "Action now!" Protesters chanted: "Ye go to the races, we go down the drain."

The Killarney meeting took place against the stand-off between Britain and its EU partners over London's decision to renege on a pledge to eradicate BSE by slaughtering 140,000 cattle.

Mr Hogg was the target of much of the anger yesterday. "Remove Hogg, sell our beef," read one placard.

The Irish farm leader, John Donnelly, accused Britain of "ripping up" the agreement and urged Brussels to "put your foot down on the British".

Ministers cleared the way for the release of pounds 400m to aid the beef market, which is close to collapse, but the farmers dismissed the decision as going nowhere near the levels of aid they need.