Roundtable talks aimed at bringing to an end a dispute between farmers and beef processors did not go ahead on Monday night after both grassroots farmers’ organisations involved in protests in recent months and meat processors refused to take part in further talks.
Following a series of bilateral contacts during the day it had been hoped the sides would meet at 7pm on Monday but that did not happen and, currently, there are no plans for talks to resume.
In a statement earlier on Monday, Meat Industry Ireland (MII) said while it had arrived at the Department of Agriculture's headquarters in Celbridge, Co Kildare, for talks, 20 plants, representing 80 per cent of processing capacity, remained blockaded by protesting farmers.
Eamon Corley, co-founder of the Beef Plan Movement, a grassroots farmers’ organisation that has been involved in organising protests, said they would not take part in talks “if there is nobody there to talk to”.
Sources close to the negotiations have expressed fears of increasingly likely lay-offs at meat plants and of closure in some cases while, on the farmers’ side, there is believed to be growing frustration among some at the continuing inability to sell their cattle.
The main bone of contention for farmers in the dispute is the price of beef. However, the issue cannot be discussed in the talks due to the fear of flouting competition law.
Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed expressed disappointment at the failure of both sides to meet and urged all parties to engage in a positive way to resolve the current impasse.
In particular, he asked MII, which represents processors, “to make every effort to avoid action that might lead to a further deterioration in relationships in what is already an intractable dispute”.
He said he had asked former Department of Agriculture secretary general Michael Dowling, chairman of the beef talks, to be "available to all parties with a view to determining a basis to get the parties back to the table".
Mr Dowling held bilateral meetings with all the groups throughout Monday afternoon before a plenary session involving a roundtable discussion with all parties was to begin at 7pm.
The Minister said he remained “convinced that the only way to resolve these significant challenges for the sector is by negotiation, and that progress can be made on key issues if the parties approach talks in a positive spirit”.
He added: “I can certainly understand farmer frustration at market conditions that see many producing beef at a significant loss and, of course, the closure of meat plants is in nobody’s best interests.”
Today’s events would “only serve to entrench positions and risk prolonging this very damaging dispute”.
“Processors and farmers are mutually dependent and the future of the beef sector depends on the development of a commercial relationship built on a recognition that this is the case,” he said.