Beef industry claims pickets are rising despite new talks plan

Meat Industry Ireland says it has deferred legal proceedings and expects reciprocity

Independent farmers and supporters outside Meadow Meats in Rathdowney, Co. Laois, pictured last month. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Independent farmers and supporters outside Meadow Meats in Rathdowney, Co. Laois, pictured last month. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

Blockades of beef processing plants were said to be increasing on Friday despite the arrangement of new talks next week aimed at resolving the dispute between farmers and producers.

In a statement, Meat Industry Ireland (MII), the representative body, said an “increased number of plants are being blockaded”.

It said that in line with the wishes of Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed ahead of next week’s talks its members had deferred legal proceedings against protesters at various factories around the country.

“To that end, the industry would expect that protestors would also respect the Minister’s call and suspend plant blockades immediately to allow the talks process to proceed as planned.”

However, many farmers are continuing to express anger at the perceived imbalance in payments along the meat supply chain.

Beef Plan Movement say farmers receive just 20 per cent of what customers pay for beef, with retailers and processors receiving disproportionately large shares.

The upcoming talks, announced by Mr Creed on Thursday, are aimed at bringing rising tensions under control. It was unclear on Friday evening if the claimed increase in blockades threatens to undermine or even prevent the talks from going ahead.

A spokesman for MII could not be reached for further comment on its statement. The Department of Agriculture declined to comment. However, farming sources said Monday’s proceedings were expected to go ahead as planned.

In a social media post on Friday afternoon, Mr Creed said he was encouraged to see industry legal injunction being dropped “and efforts made to de-escalate illegal blockades at meat plants”.

“Let’s keep momentum up to ensure all parties come to the table,” he said.

Monday’s schedule includes bilateral meetings between various interested bodies on both sides from midday. This will be followed by a plenary session at 7pm which could run late into the night and continue into the following days. The roundtable negotiations are to be chaired by Michael Dowling, former secretary general of the Department of Agriculture.

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association (ICSFA), one of those due to attend, said it was now up to processors to bring “real offers to the table... if they want to resume business”.

“They have completely forgotten that if farmers can’t make a profit, there will be no future for their business either,” said ICSFA president Edmond Phelan.

“We expect the meat industry to engage on the premise that prices are unsustainably low and all mechanisms through which a sustainable beef price can be achieved must be explored.”

The association also said the beef sector was the target of a “relentless campaign of negativity” regarding climate change and cited “well-funded efforts to push the vegan agenda”.

Meanwhile, Meath West TD Peadar Tóibín criticised Mr Creed for preventing him from representing farmers at the talks.

The Aontú party founder and former Sinn Féin TD said he was nominated by farmers at the Dawn Meats factory in Slane.

“The first rule of dispute resolution is to ensure that participants are properly and fairly represented,” he said. “Exclusion is not a successful strategy. The Minister has decided instead to stick with the same participants of the roundtable talks that has not worked to date”.

The Department of Agriculture did not respond to Mr Tóibín’s claims.