An end to the beef dispute may be in sight with the prospect of blockades on six factories being lifted on Wednesday evening.
Protesters outside Dawn Meats’s factory in Slane, Co Meath allowed produce to leave the factory on Wednesday afternoon.
Protesting farmer Pat Coogan said it was intended that the blockade of the Slane plant would officially be lifted at 9pm.
Another source said blockades would be lifted at the same time on five other plants including ABP in Clones, Co Monaghan and the other Dawn Meats plant in Grannagh, Co Waterford.
The fate of the blockades on the other 16 plants nationwide is not clear at present.
Mr Coogan said the blockades had "run their course" and it was time to allow the deal brokered by Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed to take effect.
Last weekend the farm organisations and the meat processors agreed a deal that would see increased bonus payments for farmers, more transparency in the industry and the setting up of a taskforce to mediate future disputes between processors and farmers.
However, many on the picket lines said the deal did not go far enough and were demanding a base price for cattle.
Mr Coogan stressed that the deal was "only a start. Everyone had high expectations going in. I hadn't because I know what Meat Industry Ireland (MII) is like. The Minister will be held responsible if this deal doesn't work.
“We feel we have gone as far as we can go. We don’t want restaurants without meat or supermarket shelves.”
The extended dispute has brought the Irish beef industry to a standstill. The main issue is dissatisfaction felt by farmers at the price they are getting for animals from meat processors. An agreement was believed to have been reached following talks last weekend. However, the Independent Farmers of Ireland, a group representing farmers on a number of the blockades, said its members would not accept the deal.
Damaging the beef market
Meanwhile, the chief executive of Bord Bia, Tara McCarthy, said the dispute was damaging the Irish beef market.
Planned visits by international buyers have been cancelled and postponed as a result of the ongoing blockades at meat plants, she told RTÉ’s News at One.
Promotional events have also been cancelled because the product was not there.
“There is nothing our customers like less than empty shelves, and they are reflecting on their options,” she said.
Ms McCarthy said that Bord Bia was aware of some international buyers who had been looking at other options.
There was a risk that Irish beef could be substituted, and “we will then have to rebuild the brand,” she said.
Ireland needed to be a “regular and solid” supplier of beef, and not “someone who can’t be depended on”.
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, speaking from the National Ploughing Championships in Co Carlow, said he had been told by farmers there that the issue would not be resolved under the current circumstances. Farmers who had enjoyed a positive relationship with a processor were not in a position to supply factories because of the blockade.
The situation could only be fixed by round table discussions, he said. The Minister acknowledged that price was an issue and competition law was a factor, but current blockades were continuing to damage the Irish beef export industry, he said.