Beef talks aimed at resolving dispute to begin on Monday

FG under ‘intense’ pressure to resolve issue and are at risk of losing rural seats in next election

Independent farmers and supporters outside Meadow Meats in Rathdowney, Co Laois last week protesting the price of beef. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Independent farmers and supporters outside Meadow Meats in Rathdowney, Co Laois last week protesting the price of beef. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

Fresh talks aimed at resolving the increasingly bitter beef price dispute are set to get under way next Monday, Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed has confirmed.

The Minister said there had been “significant engagement with stakeholders throughout the duration of this dispute” and he expressed the belief that there is the “basis for the renewal of talks between the parties”.

The dispute has centred around the prices meat processors are paying farmers with the Beef Plan Movement saying they receive just 20 per cent of what a customer pays for beef, with the retailer and processor receiving larger shares.

In a statement released on Thursday morning, Mr Creed said a point had been reached where it was “critically important for the future of the sector that stakeholders engage in a spirit of compromise to resolve a dispute that has the potential to inflict long term damage on the sector if it continues”.

He said this could only happen “if processors and protestors step back from court proceedings and illegal blockades, in order to allow space for meaningful talks to proceed.”

The Department of Agriculture said it would contact various parties to make the necessary arrangements.

Meat Industry Ireland (MII) said it welcomed the opportunity to participate in a new round of talks to end the current impasse with a view to securing a return to the normal business of the beef sector.

“The processing sector has been seriously hampered by protests and blockades in recent weeks which have served no useful purpose but instead have severely impacted domestic and international customers of Irish beef, farmers seeking to deliver factory ready cattle for processing, and meat industry employees across the country,” it said in a statement. It said that as a result processors “were forced to take legal action in order to limit the damage being caused to their businesses”.

It said that their legal action “was a last resort”, adding that if “a process of engagement can now be secured by the Minister, MII members will defer further legal proceedings, so that these talks can happen. We expect that protest action at the plants will equally be suspended.”

Fine Gael has been under intense pressure from members of the party to resolve the beef price dispute with several sources voicing concerns that it will lose vital rural seats in the next election in areas such as Cork, Kerry, Limerick, and Galway because of the deepening impasse.

Recent polls have shown that support for Fine Gael has fallen sharply amongst farmers.

One strategist said Mr Creed was under “exceptional pressure” from both inside and outside the party to resolve the issue.

The Minister’s announcement comes as the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) warned of beef shortages in the coming days.

ICSA president Edmond Phelan said the “big supermarkets will have no beef before the week is out unless there is a major breakthrough on this protest”.