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'I am deeply concerned': Varadkar calls for an end to protests and blockades over beef dispute

The dispute has seen unofficial pickets by farmers at processing facilities around the country in recent weeks.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking during Leaders' Questions in the Dáil today.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking during Leaders' Questions in the Dáil today.
Image: Screengrab via Oireachtas TV

Updated Sep 17th 2019, 2:47 PM

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has called for an end to the ongoing protests and blockades outside meat processing plants over the ongoing beef dispute. 

It was reported yesterday that protests are continuing at the gates of meat processing factories across the country despite a deal being struck between farmers and the meat industry on Sunday. 

An agreement was reached between farmers and beef processors following talks of over 30 hours long, organised by Agriculture Minister Michael Creed over the weekend. 

The agreement reached between beef farmers and beef processors was based upon increased bonuses for farmers and the dropping of all legal actions in exchange for an end to the blockades at factory gates. 

However, not all farmers have agreed to it and pickets remain outside a number of factories yesterday. 

Speaking during Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil this afternoon, Varadkar called for an end to the protests and blockades.

“The protests were successful in highlighting the issues affecting beef farmers, they did bring the industry to the table, but all that can be achieved from protests and blockades has now been achieved,” Varadkar said.

I would ask that they end now and that people try to make this agreement work. 

In similar comments to Varadkar, Agriculture Minister Michael Creed told RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland that beef farmers’ voices “have been heard”. 

“I think in any negotiations there are compromises – endorsed by all of those parties around the table. The point we’re making to those beef farmers is their voice has been heard,” Creed said.

“This as much as can be done in this moment in time. We are at a tipping point now. There is a bigger picture here. We’re an internationally trading country. Our reputation is important to us,” he said. 

We are witnessed self-harm to our industry as a result of this dispute.

The main points contained in the agreement include a new bonus for steers and heifers aged between 30 and 36 months, of eight cent a kilogram, as well as the current bonus for 30-month cattle jumping from 12 to 20 cent per kilogramme. 

It also states that the Quality Payment Grid – which indicates how much a farmer will get paid based on weights – will be reviewed, and promises the creation of an independently chaired Beef Market taskforce. 

However, chairman of the Beef Plan Movement, Hugh Doyle told Morning Ireland yesterday that it has stood down its protests but many other farmers will not accept the deal as it does not change the baseline price of beef. 

Creed this morning said that he is appealing to farmers to read the documents relating to the new agreement. 

“For every day this goes on, this will have long-term lasting impacts for farmers,” Creed said. 

“I would appeal to farmers to read the documents. Their negotiators have done as much as could be done. Silent majority – have your voice heard now. We’re at a critical tipping point.” 

Lay-offs

This morning, ABP Food Group confirmed that it is temporarily laying off the 355 staff at its Cahir plant as a result of “ongoing illegal blockades at the site”. 

It warned that a further 182 jobs are threatened to be laid off before the end of the week. 

In a statement, ABP has said the protesters have “stopped any product going in to or leaving the site” and that production has ceased. 

“Furthermore, these illegal blockades are impacting seriously on the thousands of beef farmers who supply cattle to the site,” ABP said. 

The company said it will stay in contact with impacted staff members and provide them with regular updates. 

“It is regrettable that the company has had to take this course of action,” it said. 

ABP has expressed its dismay that after an agreement was reached, illegal blockades remain in place at Cahir and at other processing sites across the country.

Speaking during Leaders’ Questions, Varadkar said he is “deeply concerned” that the continued protests will lead to further job losses. 

“I am deeply concerned and I think everyone in this house who cares about the beef industry, who cares about rural Ireland, who cares about employment is concerned that continued protests and continued blockards will lead to more job losses,” Varadkar said.

“There is a risk that beef plants, beef factories may close permanently and this count do long-term irrevocable damage to the industry.”

On 27 August, ABP, among other companies, was granted temporary High Court injunctions restraining groups of protesters from blockading their factories and intimidating staff and suppliers. 

With reporting by Conor McCrave

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