A Chinese delegation visiting the Republic on a trade mission failed to gain access to a meat plant in Co Roscommon due to a blockade by farmers protesting the prices they are getting for beef at factory gates.
The delegation is in Ireland to carry out inspections at a number of factories with a view to increasing exports to the Chinese market.
Concerns were raised that the sector could miss out on the multimillion euro deal due to the protests, at a time when Brexit threatens exports to the UK. There are pickets outside around a dozen plants on Monday.
A spokesman for the Kepak meat plant in Athleague, Co Roscommon, told The Irish Times on Monday the Chinese inspectors were blocked from entering its facility due to the protest.
“Management arranged for the delivery of 90 cattle to the plant this morning, but on arrival were met with up to 40 protestors who illegally blockaded the entrance and refused to allow any livestock trucks pass,” he said.
“Gardaí arrived but failed to secure safe passage for any of the hauliers, despite the blockade being illegal.
“Kepak Athleague management then spoke with several of the protestors but were informed that there was no spokesperson for the group and that no truck would be passing the illegal blockade.
“While making repeated requests to secure entry of the cattle and lambs and while highlighting the importance to the region of the plant being ‘Chinese export approved’, management were personally verbally threatened.
“At this point, and after lengthy consultation with the Department of Agriculture, Kepak management were left with no option but to cancel the scheduled inspection.”
The spokesman for Kepak said the Irish meat sector has spent “a number of years” negotiating for and setting up the Chinese visits.
“Until today, all inspections of other sites had taken place as per the planned schedule,” he said.
“Given the uncertainty around Brexit and the current weak meat market across Europe, China is one significant growth market that offers great potential for Irish beef and lamb.
“This behaviour today, by people who claim to represent the interests of farmers is a massive own goal and the cost of the failure to get this site Chinese export approved will be primarily borne by west of Ireland farmers for many years.”
There were scuffles at a number of plants where pickets were taking place on Monday. One man was arrested at Liffey Meats plant in Ballyjamesduff, Co Cavan, while another was injured.
A spokeswoman for the Garda said: “Gardaí attended an incident outside a meat processing plant in Ballyjamesduff Co Cavan, today at approximately 1pm. A man was arrested in relation to breaches of the Public Order Act. Investigations are ongoing.”
The Beef Plan Movement, a grassroots organisation, led pickets outside plants over the summer in a row with factories over the prices farmers were getting for animals, but it withdrew those protests in advance of talks aimed at settling the matter.
While an agreement was reached in the talks the movement could not convince its members to endorse it.
Subsequently individual farmers have set up a number of blockades of meat processing factories around the country.
There is no indication of a resumption of talks aimed at resolving the dispute, and up to a dozen meat plants have been granted temporary High Court injunctions halting the blockades.
Separately, Irish Farmers' Association Joe Healy called on Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed to establish a Commission of Investigation to establish processor and retailer margins along the supply chain.
He said terms of reference would have to be agreed with farmers, but that the commission should have full access to the books of the meat processors and be able to establish what they are paid for each part of the beef animal.