Brian Rushe, deputy president, Tim Cullinan president, Elizabeth Ormiston, Cavan IFA chair and Nigel Renaghan lead farmers along Farnham Street to Cavan Courthouse for a rally on climate change proposals, CAP reform and nitrates review.

VIDEO: 'If we have to go to Dublin and escalate this, we will'

PROTEST: Hundreds of farmers attend early morning Cavan protest

Farmers will take to the streets of Dublin if the warnings of today's protests are not heeded by the government, said the president of the IFA.

It was still dark when farmers from across the region assembled in a drizzly Cavan Town to highlight their concerns over CAP reform, nitrates. The urgency behind the hastily convened series of four regional protests was driven by the imminent recommendations of the Climate Change Advisory Council to the government, and the fear that carbon ceilings will be imposed that will undermine the viability of farming across sectors.

“Farmers are worried and concerned about their future,” said IFA President Tim Cullinan. “What we are seeing from our government is cut after cut, adding more costs to farmers. Farmers cannot sustain this.

“We know that the Climate Advisory Council is bringing a budget seeking a 51% cut in emissions by 2030. We cannot achieve 51%, but we are willing to play our part.”

He noted that two plans, Ag-Climatise and Agri Food Strategy 2030 had already been agreed between the government and the agriculture sector committing to a number of environmentally beneficial actions.

“Those plans have now been torn up and thrown in the bin,” said a frustrated Mr Cullinan.

“We are facing a change in the goal posts again, so you can understand why farmers are so concerned.”

The regional protests in Cavan, Roscommon, Portlaoise and Cork are the opening gambit in attempting to wrestle a seat in negotiations with the government and influence carbon ceiling targets.

“We need to be able to sit down with our government, negotiate a proper structure around all of this,” he said, referring to carbon ceilings, the nitrates review and CAP reform.

“We will be awaiting to see if we get a response from our government and, if we don't, obviously we will be escalating it again. We will be reconsidering this over the weekend and if we have to go to Dublin and escalate this, we will.”

Farmers will hope the threat of protests in the capital will resonate with politicians eager to avoid a repeat of the gridlock on Dublin's streets in January 2020. Then hundreds of beef and suckler farmers under the banner of Independent Farmers of Ireland, not the IFA, brought Dublin to a standstill for days, and then proceeded to mount a 'go-slow' protest during rush hour on the M50.

Mr Cullinan insisted that if they do go to the capital, IFA farmers will remain in Dublin until a resolution is found.

“This is a critical juncture. We are looking at the most fundamental change here since the foundation of the state and we have to get a proper outcome. It's not just farming, it's the whole of rural Ireland that's at stake here.”

Approximately a dozen tractors, followed by many more jeeps and cars made the mile-long journey from the gathering point to Cavan Courthouse. The early hour was set to enable organisers to attend the three other protests later in the day, but also to avoid angering commuters and parents dropping off school children.

Outside the landmark building, located close to the Department of Agriculture offices, a rally of approximately 250 people heard Cavan County Chairperson Elizabeth Ormiston voice a message to the government: “We are not for turning on this. We need their support because if our livelihoods are taken away. With us goes employment of around 160,000 people, exports of €14 billion and it will cause a shock to our economy.”

IFA banners were unfurled showing groups from Donegal, Longford, Louth, Meath, Monaghan and Westmeath had travelled to join the sizeable Cavan contingent.

Thomas Fitzsimons, a free range egg producer from Virginia brought along his Ben son and nephew Gearoid Fitzsimons.

“It will not happen, it can't happen, it's too much to expect farmers in Ireland to do that,” he said of the mooted 51% carbon emission reduction. “Most farmers have to work intensively to make a living on their farms, so cutting back just wouldn't work, it will drive farmers off the land.”

Many farmers believe they are unfairly portrayed in the media when it comes to the climate debate.

Cavan dairy and beef farmer Thomas Cooney defended their record saying that the Irish dairy sector is the most efficient in the EU and the beef sector is in the top five for efficiency amongst member states.

“There's no point cutting back on production in Ireland, where we are [amongst] the most environmentally in the world and food being produced in Brazil where there's no regulations, and an area the size of Co Leitrim being deforested from the Amazon every month.”