Extended beef dispute may yet split communities

In Athleague, Co Roscommon, the economic ripple effect is beginning to worry locals

Parish Priest in Athleague Fr Eugene McLoughlin says the local community are sympathetic with the protesting farmers while fearful jobs could be lost at the meat plant. Photograph: Mike McCartney

Parish Priest in Athleague Fr Eugene McLoughlin says the local community are sympathetic with the protesting farmers while fearful jobs could be lost at the meat plant. Photograph: Mike McCartney

 

There are fears in the tight-knit community of Athleague that the longer the beef dispute goes on the more chance there is of deep divisions forming.

The west Roscommon town depends greatly on farming and the Keypak meat plant and news of countrywide layoffs has produced shock waves .

Locals on both sides of the river Suck are worried while outside the Keypak plant a group of farmers have put up a Christmas tree, indicating they are in for the long haul.

Parish priest Fr Eugene McLoughlin says the community is united through an understanding of what both the farmers and the workers are going through.

“People are feeling sorry for the farmers being forced into taking action when they could be at work producing the food. When one passes by the Keypak plant and one sees farmers young and old, standing in the rain, then I think people feel sad and realise it shouldn’t have come to this. This is a strong farming community and the livelihood of people depends on the farm,” he says.

Fr McLoughlin speaks of the many families supported across Co Roscommon thanks to Kepak.

“Trucks, tractors, and vehicles are arriving in the town from all over Ireland every day of the week . . . It’s an industry that is the heart of Athleague and so many depend on it.”

Fr McLoughlin says it is essential that progress be made to avoid any possible division within the locality. “The longer it goes on, the more difficult it will be to solve. It hasn’t caused division yet but it could, the longer the dispute goes on,” he says.

End of the town?

Fears of local division but also the future viability of the town is on the mind of Christina Delany, whose family has run Healy’s Hardware for the past 60 years. The business supplies solid fuel to the locality and doubles up to sell farm products.

“ If the dispute isn’t settled then it could lead to the end of the town,” she says. “I would hate to see division being created locally but the protesting farmers are doing what they have to do, or it would be another step in closing down rural Ireland. Farming is the backbone of Athleague. We have already lost the post office, the local Garda station and the doctor has gone also, but we keep the town going as best we can.” She says these are “very worrying times”.

At the Aurivo Co-Op, staff member Ronnie O’Grady says it is a worrying time for everyone, as a number of meat plant workers are also farmers.

“They can’t afford to be out of work either and so this dispute needs to be resolved quickly,” says O’ Grady.

It is also the time of the year when farmers are settling their accounts. “It’s going to have a knock-on effect here without doubt if the factories aren’t paying the farmers for their cattle. If the farmers can’t get a price for their cattle . . . then the knock-on effect will be widespread,” says O’Grady.

“It doesn’t suit anybody for this dispute to go on too long. Some of the cattle that are to be killed could be heading for overage.

“There is a worry among the locals in Athleague but they realise that the farmer is keeping the economy going. They believe the farmer needs to get a good price for his stock, otherwise he will go out of business and this will effect local business in the future,” he addds.