5 June 1998

Mass farmer rally to coincide with EU Cardiff summit

By Shelley Wright

THOUSANDS of farmers from across Britain are being urged to descend on Cardiff next Sunday (June 14) for a rally that coincides with the opening of the EU heads of government summit in the city. NFU leader Ben Gill told farmers weekly: "The important thing is we get a good show of people there to demonstrate to the international media the level of concern in this country. And there is one specific aim – getting the beef ban lifted.

"There must be no possibility of prime ministers from all the EU member states coming here and thinking that just because the ban has been lifted for Northern Ireland then that will keep the rest of the UK quiet for a couple of years."

As the rally gets underway, the heads of government will be arriving in the city for their summit to mark the end of the UKs six-month EU presidency. That is believed to be the ideal time to have maximum impact.

At last months agriculture ministers meeting in Newcastle, the farmer demonstration was held on the second day of the gathering and, according to industry sources, the foreign ministers were surprised when they arrived in the city and saw no immediate signs of protest. Many of them concluded that the farmers, perhaps, were not as worried about the state of the UK industry as they had been led to believe.

Mr Gill said: "It really is important that as many people as possible go to Cardiff to give the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, the maximum support in his demands for getting the beef ban lifted. I know he is working extremely hard behind the scenes on this, as is Jack Cunningham (farm minister). We need to support their efforts.

"If Mr Blair can point out to his counterparts that there were thousands of farmers on the streets of Cardiff, demonstrating their frustration that the ban is still in place two years after the Florence summit, then that can only help."

The rally, organised jointly by a number of organisations, will be held at Cardiff Rugby Club at 12 noon.

A march through the streets of the Welsh capital will follow.