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Explainer: Why have IFA protesters blockaded a major Aldi distribution centre in Naas?

Farmers, organised by the IFA, are protesting again.

Farmers protesting in Naas today.
Farmers protesting in Naas today.
Image: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

FARMERS ARE PROTESTING again. This morning, the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) organised a blockade outside an Aldi distribution centre in Naas. 

This is the first direct action organised by the IFA since an agreement was reached between farmers and meat factories in September after weeks of protests. 

“The supply chain is delivering mega profits for factories and retailers at the expense of farmers. We can have all the reviews we like, but farmers need a price increase now,” IFA President Joe Healy said this morning. 

Last week, individual farmers gathered in Dublin to take the fight to Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed. Bringing traffic to a standstill in the city centre and camping out near the Shelbourne Hotel overnight, the farmers argued that issues remain with prices and meat factories. 

Creed met with some representatives and addressed the crowd of protesters. However, it did little to mollify the farmers’ demands. 

“You’ve sold us out,” one farmer shouted. 

 Why are farmers protesting?

This is far from the first blockade of factories and distribution centres. 

Throughout the summer, farmers staged protests and blockades at plants across the country. 

Tensions grew with meat factories until an agreement was broached in September, brokered by Creed and agreed between farmers’ groups – including the IFA and the grassroots Beef Plan Movement campaign – and Meat Industry Ireland. 

 The agreement had seemed to offer the prospect of an end to protests, with the promise of an independently chaired Beef Market Taskforce to satisfy concerns over price. 

Nearly three months later, farmers say issues over price remain. 

The IFA had not taken part in or organised last week’s protests. However, it had expressed support for the people taking part. 

John Coughlan of the Irish Farmers’ Association said: “I support the end goal of these farmers and the many thousands more up and down the country who share their frustrations.”

What has changed since last week?

Farmers say their demands still have not been met. The Irish Farmers Association is calling for a “significant” beef price increase. They say large retailers, such as Aldi, are driving down food prices and cutting any profits that go to farmers. 

Similar demands were made last week when farmers gathered in Dublin. Since then, injunctions have been lifted against protesters from blockading a pet food company, while the Beef Market Taskforce held its first meeting. 

It’s the latter meeting that has sparked the latest protests. 

The taskforce was intended to be an arena for the meat industry and farmers to discuss and liaise on issues like price. But the planned first meeting in October had to be reconvened after farmers arrived and tried to prevent representatives from Meat Industry Ireland entering the Department of Agriculture. 

The re-scheduled meeting seems to have scarcely been much better. In a statement this morning, Angus Woods, the chair of the IFA livestock committee, accused retailers of “hiding behind factories”. 

“While the meat plants are at the table with farmers and the Department in the Beef Task Force, the retailers and the food services sector are nowhere to be seen. They are hiding behind the factories and are trying to dodge their responsibility for low prices for prime meat and the unacceptable delays in increasing prices to farmers,” he said. 

Aldi

Aldi has been targeted simply because it’s a retailer. Farmers have accused large businesses of refusing to take part in beef price negotiations. 

Retailers, Healy said this morning, “work hand in glove with processors without any consideration for the impact on farmers”. 

As for Aldi, a spokesperson for the global company said that it was “extremely disappointed” by the blockade. 

While it doesn’t expect its stores to be impacted by the blockade, the company defended its role in beef talks. 

9885 Protests Gardaí try to enter the Aldi centre in Naas. Source: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

The spokesperson said that Aldi is working with the Beef Taskforce and last week met with the Beef Plan Movement.

“We remain committed to reporting back through the Taskforce and playing a fulsome role in the process.  Any action outside of this process is short-sighted and not constructive,” they said.

“Aldi received no request for engagement on this issue from any member of the IFA leadership, no communication about specific concerns about the mechanics of the beef market, including age specification, and no warning of any grievance the IFA had before this morning,” the spokesperson said. 

IFA significance

The involvement of the IFA is a major escalation of the protests. The demonstrations last week were informal and largely ad hoc – but the IFA remains a major national voice representing farmers. 

“The IFA has stepped into the ring,” Barry Cassidy, a reporter with the Farmers’ Journal, says. “Last week Dublin was unofficial and unorganised.”

The organisation brings a certain professionalism to the protests – but it’s also unclear why the IFA decided that now was the time to return to the picket line.  

For the IFA, Cassidy says, the disparity in beef prices between Ireland and Europe has made action more urgent. 

“The price of beef is behind the rest of Europe,” he says. 

In the background to the row, the IFA itself is at something of a crossroads. The campaign to elect a new president of the nationwide organisation is still ongoing, with the back-and-forth negotiations and protests forming a backdrop to debates and hustings. 

What happens next?

It’s hard to tell. The IFA has said that it will “continue to take action until processors give a significant price increase”. 

It remains to be seen what exactly “significant” means. Farmers have pointed to the disparity between the price they receive for beef and the price in Northern Ireland – a difference of 50 cent. 

Cassidy doesn’t think such an increase in price would be realistic.

Instead, he thinks farmers could achieve a 15 to 25 cent increase. 

Whether that would be enough remains to be seen, but even that isn’t guaranteed. Last month, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that the government “must be honest with farmers”. 

“There are some things that the Government controls and some things that the government doesn’t and the beef price isn’t one of them,” he said. 

Today, he said: “I don’t see any reasonable justification as to why Irish farmers should be getting a lower price than the European average when only a few months ago they were getting the average price.”

But if no one budges further – the IFA, meat processors or the government – then we could be in for more protests in the weeks to come. 

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