Ireland’s MEPs would not save Ireland’s current nitrates derogation were it in their gift, Fine Gael MEP Colm Markey believes.

Markey was asked at a Fine Gael agriculture meeting in Athy on Monday evening if it were left to Ireland’s 13 sitting MEPs to decide whether the derogation should be retained without any further cuts in maximum stocking rates.

“If it came down to our MEPs we’d probably have about four,” he replied.

Markey went on to say farmers need to have farmers elected on county councils, in the Dáil and in Europe if they want their voice heard, but those public representatives need to be in the mainstream parties, adding “we have to call out populism”.

The meeting was preceded by a farmer and tractor protest outside the Clanard Court Hotel, with Kildare, Carlow and south Leinster chairs Denis Halpin, John Nolan and Paul O’Brien, addressing the 150 farmers present.

Markey and Minister of State Martin Heydon, a local TD, addressed the crowd, who then joined the politicians inside for a meeting that was lively at times.

Apart from the derogation, Christopher Duffy raised the issues of carbon tax on diesel for contractors, and that contractors are locked out of TAMS. Tillage was raised repeatedly, with Minister Heydon pledging that supports for the sector would follow the Food Vision sectoral group’s report.

“You cut my agricultural supports by 40% last year,” said Adam Goodwin. “We’re in a part of the country where convergence has been devastating,” Minister Heydon acknowledged. “I honestly think if Ukraine had happened at the start of the CAP process, we would have had a different conversation around CAP,” he continued. “Some countries had got complacent.”