Crisis talks aimed at resolving beef dispute to resume on Saturday

Processing plant in North approved to supply retailers with Republic reared meat

Beef slaughtering operations are to remain suspended in blockaded plants during the talks. Photograph: iStock

Beef slaughtering operations are to remain suspended in blockaded plants during the talks. Photograph: iStock

 

Crisis talks aimed at ending the beef dispute are set to resume on Saturday despite ongoing blockades of processing facilities that scuppered previous negotiations before they began.

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed is expected to attend the talks which will take the form of several bilateral meetings followed by a plenary session.

Although the likelihood of any immediate resolution is unclear, progress has been welcomed by both Meat Industry Ireland (MII), representing processors, and the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA).

The acrimonious dispute, which has seen farmers blocking access to meat processing plants in several sites around the country, centres on the perceived imbalance in prices between famers and producers.

Previously planned talks on Monday began to unravel when MII pulled out citing the ongoing blockades.

However, in a statement on Friday, Mr Creed said it was “time for people to take a step back from entrenched positions and to take a positive approach towards resolving their differences”.

“I have engaged intensively with all sides and have a deep understanding of the outstanding issues, and the emotion, involved. I expect all sides to recognise the urgency of the current situation, and to enter talks in good faith and with a firm intention to reach agreement.”

MII has said some slaughtering operations would remain suspended in blockaded plants during the talks but stressed existing limited beef stocks must be allowed free movement to avoid losses to the sector.

The toll on supply has already been demonstrated - on Thursday the Aldi supermarket chain announced it would begin informing customers that its beef products, although Irish, were being processed in UK plants. Farmers have been blockading meat factories since last month.

Nonetheless MII said on Friday that it welcomed progress over the previous 24 hours aimed at resuming talks which will begin on Saturday morning at the Department of Agriculture.

“We are committed to working constructively to resolve the situation, and have always been ready to participate in talks, but only when negotiations could take place in good faith,” it said.

The apparent breakthrough was also welcomed by IFA President Joe Healy who called for a cessation of “grandstanding and the posturing”.

“Meat Industry Ireland and the Minister must come forward with concrete and substantive proposals to resolve the issues and improve the position of farmers,” he said.

“We can’t afford to spend any time on posturing and game playing. We need to get this solved this weekend.”

Customers

The talks come in advance of a planned protest by individual beef farmers in Dublin on Monday. It was initially expected to take place in Kildare Street on Friday but was postponed.

Meanwhile, an Bord Bia confirmed that a processing plant in Northern Ireland has been approved to supply retailers with meat reared in the Republic.

The food authority said it would not have any difficulty in approving further plants in the UK once the animals had been reared in the Republic and the plants met its standards.

Chief executive Tara McCarthy said a Dawn Meats plant in Northern Ireland had been cleared to process cattle. She told RTÉ’s News at One that once the processors followed Bord Bia’s rules and procedures and consented to occasional audits they could be approved.

Acknowledging the “huge challenge” that had developed as a result of the protests, she said there remained a desire among retailers, processors and consumers that people continue to eat Irish beef.

“It’s a finite issue and stocks could run out and it would be an awful shame for consumers not to have the option of buying quality assured Irish beef and we hope that never happens,” she said.