Pickets outside beef plants for fourth day despite court injunctions

Farmers agree to temporarily lift protests at some facilities for visit of Chinese inspectors


Farmers and their supporters continued to picket beef-processing factories for a fourth day on Thursday despite injunctions being granted to plant owners and the arrival of Chinese inspectors to visit some of the facilities ahead of a potentially lucrative meat deal.

The farmers, many of whom say they are acting as individuals rather than as part of a group, argue they have no option but to defend their livelihoods by protesting for better prices for their animals.

The Chinese delegation visited Meadow Meats in Rathdowney, Co Laois and the ABP plant in Cahir, Co Tipperary, where, before the visitors arrived, farmers who had been picketing the entrance since Sunday lifted their protest.

The move followed talks during which the farmers agreed to allow 180 cattle into the factory to ensure the Chinese group could see the plant in operation. A farmer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the sides agreed it was in everybody’s interests to facilitate the Chinese delegation.

Lawyers acting for the meat processors had claimed a multimillion-euro meat deal with China was under threat because of the protests.

Farmers who have been protesting at plants near the Kilkenny-Waterford border said they had reached agreement with management and would on Thursday withdraw their pickets outside Dawn Meats at Grannagh and at ABP in Ferrybank for the duration of the visit by the Chinese officials.

In return it is understood that factory management have agreed to meet the farmers on Monday for “unconditional” talks. Protest organisers also claimed that High Court injunctions were being lifted by the two factories. However, neither ABP or Dawn Meats commented on the situation.

Stepped down

The protest at Dawn Meats will resume in the afternoon when the delegation departs, and the demonstration at ABP in Ferrybank has been stepped down until Monday.

At Grannagh, south Kilkenny farmer Jimmy O’Shea said the agreement had come about after a “tough morning” with legal teams for the factory and the farmers.

“[The last month is] after being a long difficult time for everybody, and one of the main things we want to reiterate is that the peaceful protest will remain here on site in Grannagh,” he said, adding that the protest had received “huge support” during its duration.

“[People] realise that the major factories, the big companies, they’re making all the money whereas the little guy is struggling, striving. And most of the fellas passing in cars are in the exact same position as us, only they belong to a different industry.”

Speaking at Ferrybank, Pat Kirwan, a Kilmacthomas famer who has resigned as chair of the Waterford Beef Plan Movement to rejoin the protests, said the lifting of the injunctions was a “huge relief”.

“I felt my place was here with the farmers, on the ground here with the farmers. Beef Plan can’t be associated with this. But I felt I could do more with the farmers [at the picket],” he said.

Liffey Meats, which operates plants outside Ballinasloe, Co Galway, Ballyjamesduff, Co Cavan, and Hackettstown, Co Carlow, on Thursday secured a temporary High Court injunction restraining protesters from blockading its factories and from intimidating its staff and suppliers.

Put at risk

Rory Mulcahy SC, for Liffey Meats, told Mr Justice David Barniville that the slaughtering of animals at the plants had ceased due to protesters blocking the entrances and that the firm’s 600-strong workforce had been put at risk.

He said Liffey Meats had no problem with any peaceful protest but had no choice other than to seek an injunction because the blockade was an unlawful activity that was damaging its business. The proceedings were brought against 14 individuals the firm has been able to identify.

Mr Justice Barniville said he was satisfied on an ex-parte basis to grant the injunctions. Noting that there had been talks between stakeholders on the matter, the judge said it would be much better to enter into discussions than to engage in the acts as alleged. He adjourned the proceedings to next Tuesday’s sitting of the High Court.

Liffey Meats is the fifth beef-processing plant owner to obtain a High Court injunction against protestors, who earlier this week commenced the blockade of the processor’s facilities.

Dawn Meats, ABP, Kepak and Slaney Meats have obtained similar orders. The actions brought by Dawn Meats and ABP return before the High Court on Friday. The former has obtained permission to bring proceedings seeking the possible committal to prison of a person it claims has breached the injunction.