Minister urges beef farmers to lift pickets at processing plants

‘Let’s sit down around the table’: Creed says progress could be made on farmers’ issues

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Michael Creed. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times/Files

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Michael Creed. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times/Files

 

Protesting Irish beef farmers have been urged by Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Michael Creed to lift their pickets at meat processing plants in order to allow settlement talks take place.

Mr Creed said that beef farmers had “made their point” and urged them to call off their nationwide pickets on meat plants to allow settlement talks commence with Meat Industry Ireland (MII) officials.

Mr Creed’s appeal came amid threats by the meat plants that they will lay off some staff at facilities picketed by farmers, who are members of the Beef Plan group campaigning against the low price farmers are getting for beef.

“I would urge the Beef Plan movement to come off the picket line – let’s sit down around the table. I have seen the agenda that they have and I believe collectively we can make progress on those issues,” he said.

Speaking to Cork’s 96FM, Mr Creed said: “I would say that they have made their point and they have made it very effectively. It is time now to sit down around the table and talk.”

Mr Creed rejected farmer complaints he had not taken an active role in tackling the beef price crisis. He also dismissed claims he should have personally met protesting beef farmers on the picket line outside a Cork meat plant.

“This is a national issue – in ways it is an international issue. What I have been trying to do is, in a way, with a clean pair of hands bring both sides to the table. If I align myself with one or the other, then I’m alienating one or the other,” he said.

He said: “What I’ve been trying is to arrive at a situation where, what in essence is a dispute between two commercial entities, beef farmers and processors, arrive at a situation where I can bring both into the room and sit around the table.

“My job every day is to work with farmers and for farmers. I do acknowledge that it is a very difficult space at the moment for farmers in the beef sector. Beef Plan have made their point very well and very cogently.”

Invitation

Some Cork beef farmers have warned Mr Creed that if he accepts an invitation to attend the Tullamore Show on August 11th, he runs the risk of them boycotting the major agricultural showcase event.

“Protest is a legitimate part of any democracy. I have a long-standing invitation to go to Tullamore for the National Livestock Show. I intend to go there. I have never hidden from engagement with farm organisations,” said Mr Creed.

“I would like for it to happen in a civilised fashion around the (negotiating) table. This is a very difficult time for everybody – beef farmers, it is not their natural habitat to be protesting outside meat plants,” he said.

“It is also a very difficult time for the industry. That is reflected in the fact we recently launched a €100 million scheme for them. It is very difficult for farmers who have cattle to sell. It is very difficult for people working in those plants.

“What I have been trying to do over the last several days is arrive at a situation where we can have round table discussions with the Beef Plan movement and all of the stakeholders in the industry.”

He said: “I think we’ve the basis of that now. we have an agreement by MII to participate. They have made their case well, but the next logical step is to sit down at the table and negotiate. I would urge them to avail of that opportunity.”

Mr Creed acknowledged that beef prices have been low across Europe. He said Ireland also faces a very difficult situation ahead with the UK if it leaves the EU without a deal.

Mr Creed also warned that threatened lay-offs at some beef plants complicates the situation. “The last several days have not been easy. The prospect of people being laid-off (at meat plants) exacerbates an already difficult situation,” he said.

“The death of rural Ireland has been predicted by many people and I don’t see any evidence of it. This is a difficult situation . . . but the Common Agriculture Policy is a critical part of our toolbox to deliver supports for rural Ireland and rural communities.”