Beef taskforce begins talks aimed at resolving dispute

Discussions on beef sector reforms start after contentious court injunctions lifted

Tractors parked on the streets around St Stephen’s Green in Dublin city centre last week in protest. Photograph: PA

Tractors parked on the streets around St Stephen’s Green in Dublin city centre last week in protest. Photograph: PA

 

Roundtable talks aimed at resolving a major dispute between beef farmers and processing factories over prices began in the Department of Agriculture on Tuesday morning.

The talks include department officials and representatives from the Irish Farmers Association (IFA), the industry group Meat Industry Ireland (MII), and the grassroots group Beef Plan Movement.

The taskforce is chaired by former department secretary general Michael Dowling and began at 9am. The taskforce was agreed to be set up to work towards reforms in the beef sector as part of previous negotiations aimed at ending farmer protests at meat factories around the country.

Last week farmers blockaded Dublin city centre as part of the ongoing protest over the lack of progress on demanded reforms in the sector and improvements in beef prices for farmers.

The beef taskforce talks had been due to begin in October, but the initial meeting failed to go ahead following protests by farmers over the fact injunctions remained in place against two farmers who had blockaded processing factories.

The countrywide protests blocking the entrances of meat factories essentially shut down the processing industry, and led to companies running the plants to seek injunctions against individual farmers.

Blockades

Two farmers who continued to face injunctions were involved in blockades at C&D Foods, a pet food factory in Co Longford owned by Larry Goodman’s ABP Group. Last week C&D Foods, which is itself not a member of MII, applied to strike out injunctions it had sought against the farmers.

Following this move the beef taskforce reconvened for its first meeting on Tuesday, which sources said was a “well mannered and constructive” meeting.

The set-up of the taskforce is similar in nature to the “beef forum” established by then minister for agriculture Simon Coveney in 2014, which discussed farmers concerns over beef prices but made little headway to resolve grievances.

The taskforce will look at overseeing a series of reforms in the sector that were agreed during previous intensive talks in September.

In a statement after the discussions IFA president Joe Healy said the taskforce had accepted there was a “significant gap” between prices for Irish beef and other export markets.

The farmers’ association “demanded an immediate and significant price increase and highlighted the anger of farmers that factories had held back on justified price increases over recent weeks,” said Mr Healy.

In a statement afterwards, MII described the meeting as a “constructive discussion”. The industry group said it would relay calls from farmer representatives for an immediate cattle price increase to its members.

MII said while there had been recent improvements in the international market for beef, it was “taking time for this to feed through on Irish sales values”.

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed said he was “delighted” the first meeting had taken place and said it was “imperative that the entire sector works together to secure the future of Irish beef”.

Later in the Dáil the Minister insisted the voice of beef farmers is adequately and professionally represented in the talks as opposition TDs called for the Independent Farmers of Ireland group to be represented at the talks.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath said those farmers had participated in the protests in Dublin over two days last week.

He said that Meath Industry Ireland “and the usual suspects inside there excluding the people who matter on the ground”.

Sinn Fein TD Brian Stanley said correspondence from solicitors in Kilkenny representing the Independent Farmers of Ireland “set out very clearly that the organisation is properly constituted and has elected representatives”.

But Mr Creed asked the two TDs which group they were representing because two different organisations had made representation claiming to be the group.

“We negotiated with the Independent Farmers of Ireland group in September” and after the talks they received notice that the group was dissolving because it had achieved what it set out to do.