Meat factories threaten legal action over pickets by Beef Plan movement
Meat Industry Ireland says ‘unlawful behaviour of some protesters’ has caused significant and irreparable damage to the industry
IFA president Joe Healy said “if we don’t improve the situation of farmers we won’t have any beef sector at all as farmers will go out of business”
Meat factories are threatening legal action against Irish farmers in an attempt to quash countrywide protests which have shut down 14 processing plants in an escalating crisis in the industry over the price being paid for beef.
Meat Industry Ireland (MII), which represents processing companies, has alleged “serious intimidation and outright illegality” at a growing number of pickets at plants organised by the Beef Plan movement.
In a strongly worded statement MII said the “unlawful behaviour of some protesters at certain sites has caused significant and irreparable damage” to the industry, adding that “continued intimidation” of staff, vets and hauliers was “unacceptable”.
“Unfortunately, as a result of the Beef Plan campaign of illegal blockades, companies have been forced to lay off employees, with more expected to be laid off in the coming days as operations grind to a halt,” the statement said.
“Other service providers are also unable to earn a living as sites are blockaded and unable to continue operations unimpeded.”
It said Beef Plan had already been responsible “for the closure of some 14 plants, while many other plants are now operating well below capacity”.
MII said the “illegal blockading of factories” was threatening business built up over 20 years, and creating “serious” health and safety risks at factories.
The representative body further claimed that Beef Plan, which represents farmers, rejected an offer to enter talks to be brokered by Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed on Wednesday evening.
This left MII “with no choice other than to seek legal remedy in an effort to prevent Beef Plan from causing further damage to the Irish beef industry”.
However, Eamon Corley, co-chair of the Beef Plan movement, denied any such approach was made to start talks to resolve the deepening dispute.
“I don’t know anything about that. I haven’t heard of it,” he told The Irish Times. “The language being used here by MII is very aggressive, bearing in mind that we are looking for a resolution to this current situation, we are looking for representatives from the meat factories to sit around a table with retailers and farmers, to work out a solution to the beef pricing crisis.”
Farmers say the prices they are being paid for beef cattle are so low that they cannot survive on the income.
Mr Corley said Beef Plan had “done everything in its power” to keep protests peaceful, including issuing guidelines on demonstrations, but he accepted anger had spilled over at a number of factories where guidelines were not being followed.
The movement had “stepped away” from protests at three plants where it said farmers were not adhering to the issued protest guidelines.
He said farmers were also suffering, adding that one 57-year-old farmer from Co Meath received “horrific injuries” when he was crushed by a lorry outside a meat processing plant last week.
The victim is in hospital with a broken hip, broken ribs, broken shoulder and dislocated kneecaps, meaning he won’t be able to farm, said Mr Corley. The incident was reported to the Garda, he added.
Mr Corley said MII’s threat of legal action was pointless as the shut down in processing plants was mainly down to farmers refusing to bring in their cattle for slaughter, rather than the pickets.The number of cattle being brought to factories was down as much as 55 per cent.
“We see this as a good day for the farmer,” he said. “We have managed to cut the supply to the factories through farmer boycotts. We think the tide is turning in our favour, and we are more determined that ever.”
Joe Healy, president of the Irish Farmers Association (IFA), described the threatened legal action as “heavy-handed, ill-advised and counterproductive”.
“Hauling beef farmers before the courts is not the answer to the hugely significant challenges facing the sector. The current dispute is a product of the desperation farmers find themselves in. The reality is that if we don’t improve the situation of farmers we won’t have any beef sector at all as farmers will go out of business.”
Mr Healy urged MII to withdraw the threatened legal action.
“This problem will not be solved in the Four Courts. Meat Industry Ireland should set aside any pre-conditions and enter the talks proposed by Minister Creed immediately. The Minister should it make it clear to MII that he expects them to attend the talks, which he should convene today.”