Meat processing giant Kepak issued High Court proceedings against the grassroots Beef Plan Movement as the meat industry faced off against protesters last week, court records show.
The protests were called off last Friday, but not before lawyers acting on behalf of the Co Meath headquartered meat packing company took an injunction case on Friday against the Beef Plan Movement Company Ltd.
A source said the High Court case was “one of a number of legal initiatives” that were being worked on in the latter half of last week by meat processors who had seen their plants picketed over a 12-day period by farmers angry at the price they were being given for their cattle.
Before it was agreed that the pickets would be called off to facilitate talks, solicitors letters were issued to protestors at five processing plants, including a Kepak facility. Farmers outside Dawn Meats, Liffey Meats, ABP and Slaney Meats also received legal letters.
The Kepak court proceedings relate to the early stages of seeking an injunction, with no summons yet issued and no action taken. It is thought that no action will be taken arising from the legal notice until the talks have been concluded.
However, a well-placed source believes that while the meat processors have achieved their initial objective of forcing a temporary stoppage to the protests, it could turn again to legal recourse if talks break down.
“Absolutely they’re very much in the drawer to be taken out again,” the source said.
In addition to the legal threats from the meat industry, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission also warned the Beef Plan Movement that its actions, which amounted to a collective boycott by beef farmers of beef plants with an intention to force an increase in the price of beef, could raise concerns from a competition perspective.
The dual threat severely limited the capacity of the Beef Plan Movement to continue with its chosen tactics of boycotts and picketing, meaning it was left with little alternative to joining talks which were first proposed by Minister for Agriculture.
The talks proceeded on Monday at the Department of Agriculture's campus in Backweston, Co Kildare. According to an agenda circulated in advance of the meeting, Bord Bia were to make a presentation on the current state of the meat market, with each organisation attending then given time for response.
Officials from the Department of Agriculture were then scheduled to give a presentation on strategic challenges facing the sector, before a detailed discussion on the functioning of the meat processing market took place, including measures on improving market transparency, and the unfair trading practices directive.
Among the submissions made at the meeting was one from Irish Farmers Association (IFA) president Joe Healy, who proposed a quality assurance bonus on cattle from farms that could prove quality assurance standards, and a targeted payment of €200 per suckler cow.
Mr Healy also argued that the Government should reject what he said were cuts to the Irish CAP budget worth €97 million, and called for the introduction of a €1 billion Brexit fund of market supports and direct aid for farmers.