The effigy of agriculture minsiter Brendan Smith at yesterday's protest

At least 5,000 angry members of the farming community crowded into Cavan town yesterday to protest proposed cuts to their livelihood.

However, agriculture minister Brendan Smith was a notable absentee.

Instead, demonstrators hung banners around the minister's constituency office in the town centre, surrounded by a ring of gardaí to prevent any potential trouble.

An effigy of the unpopular minister was also hung from a makeshift gallows in the crowd. Those near to the ominous prop vowed it would be set alight at the end of proceedings.

Although the minister was not present to hear the complaints at first hand, they certainly seemed loud enough to have reached him.

Following on from the contentious ending of the environmental REPS scheme, farmers say they are livid at An Bord Snip Nua's proposals, which they claim will damage their industry even further.

Among the report's recommendations are plans to eliminate suckler cow welfare payments, raise disease levies and cut disadvantage area payments. Such moves, the agricultural sector believes, would only further the economic plight of the country's most vulnerable farmers.

Irish Farmers Association (IFA) leader Padraig Walshe summed up the general mood.

"What Colin McCarthy has done is Dublin 4 economics," he said to the crowd. "All of the people on that board are living in Dublin, there is not one of them who knows how the rural economy works.

"We have 10,000 here today and the crowd is growing because of the shock of people – and the effects of this will be seen for a long time in their incomes," said Walshe.

The IFA said 10,000 attended the protest while garda estimates put the figure at 5,000.

Gardaí at the protest said that the minister was on holiday.

Recent scenes saw an angry farmer mob targeting the minister's car in reaction to the cuts. One farmer in Cavan yesterday said that if the minister had been present, not only would he not have been allowed to speak, but that he would have been attacked.

However, while all in attendance at the protest were angered at what they see as an industry under siege, not everybody present welcomed militant action or expressions of anger.

"I think that is distasteful," said Galway farmer Thomas Faherty in reference to the Brendan Smith effigy swinging in the crowd.

A self-declared personal friend of the minister, he explained: "He is human and he is doing a job. Lynching is gone out of this country years ago. It is draconian."

Faherty said the farmers' cause cause is the same as everyone else's.

"As a farmer I don't mind taking the levies but this is my income," he said. "I am down about €16,000 next year. Personally I'm not down, I'm out. I will be on the dole."