Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed has told the Dáil that he and the Minister for Justice were told directly about death threats made to senior management at a company that has an injunction against protesters outside its processing plant.
Farmers protesting in Dublin city centre have claimed his comments in the Dáil on Tuesday about death threats were incorrect and called for him to withdraw remarks he made as a condition for them to end their protest.
The protesters, many with tractors, have called for all farmers to be represented at a beef taskforce established to deal with the crisis in the sector and have demanded that the injunctions should be lifted. The injunctions were sought against farmers blockading processing plants during the summer.
Mr Creed also called on “the company involved to see the bigger picture” and to build bridges to get the taskforce up and running.
He said they needed to resolve the “toxic nature” of the debate because long-term it was not sustainable.
On Tuesday Mr Creed had told the House that “what has compounded the difficulty [in getting the taskforce to meet again
He also said “we have seen in other cases what happens when senior executives in companies are threatened”.
But on Wednesday morning in the Dáil Mr Creed said during agriculture questions: “I attended a meeting in the presence of the Minister for Justice with MII [Meat Industry Ireland
“The details against who they were made were given to my department which was conveyed to the Minister for Justice who spoke to the individual concerned and confirmed that that was the case.”
Mr Creed said: “I have never made, and I think that this should be clearly stated, the connection or allegations that it is in any way those who protested or those who injuncted [who were] involved in that process but that is a further complication.
"We are trying to move to a situation where we're trying to get all the parties around the table," he told Sinn Féin's Brian Stanley.
The taskforce met briefly in October when it was established, but a row developed over the ongoing injunctions against a number of farmers over blockades at beef-processing plants.
Mr Stanley questioned the Minister about the steps taken to get the talks convened, and he called on the Minister to meet Larry Goodman of ABP Food Group, which has an ongoing injunction.
Labour TD Willie Penrose said "it's incumbent on ABP to show a bit of positivity and to cultivate a greater positive environment around this".
Mr Penrose criticised MII, which represents the meat processors, and said “their sole interest is to protect their own profits and margins, and they don’t give a sugar about the primary producer.
“There’ s one or two in a dominant position, and they’re abusing that dominant position, and it’s about time they were taken on because they’ve no care for anyone but themselves.”
Mr Creed said he had previously commented on the “toxic nature of the relationship between processors and primary producers”.
He had hoped that the taskforce would mark a new departure because long-term the situation was not sustainable.
The protesters he met felt that he could unilaterally waive the injunctions, but “they are not the property of this department”.
“But I do agree the company involved should see the bigger picture. It’s part of the resolution of the toxic nature of the debate that we need to start building bridges, we need to reach out. We need to move outside from our comfort zones.”
He said all parties had cooperated bilaterally with the taskforce chairman and the Department of Agriculture. “Let’s take the next step and meet.”