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Meat plants 'will seek to jail protesters' as farmers denounce 'heavy-handed legal tactics'

There have been reports of scuffles at protests outside plants today.

Image: Shutterstock/Sean Pavone

Updated Aug 28th 2019, 5:47 PM

THE OWNER OF several meat factories has told the High Court that protests at one of its processing plants have escalated since it secured an injunction restraining the blockading of their factories and the intimidation of staff and suppliers.

Dawn Meats brought the first of what Mr Justice Senan Allen was told could be many applications that could see individual protesters jailed for being in contempt of court.

Farmers are protesting a fall in the amount they receive for beef and attempting to force processors to pay higher prices, saying their livelihoods are at risk. 

Lawyers for firms Dawn Meats and Anglo Beef Processors (ABP) yesterday separately secured various orders restraining several named protesters, and anyone with knowledge of the court’s orders, from continuing their blockade of the plants.

Lyndon MacCann, SC for Dawn Meats, returned before the High Court today and told Judge Allen that the situation outside his client’s plant at Grannagh, Co Waterford, had “intensified overnight”.

This morning deliveries of cattle to the plant had been blocked by protestors, who stood in front of the vehicles and refused to move aside, the judge heard. An attempt was made to use the rear entrance of the plant and several deliveries got through.

Once protestors had learned of this they parked a small truck at the rear gate, blocking it.

MacCann, who appeared with barrister Stephen Walsh, said that one farmer, who was named in court, directed verbal abuse at one of the Dawn Meat managers.

A copy of the court order with a penal endorsement had been served on him, he said.

MacCann said that trucks, which have nothing to do with beef processing, had also been refused access by the protestors. Dawn Meats now wishes to bring a motion seeking the attachment of one of the protesters and/or his imprisonment if he fails to comply with the injunction.

MacCann said that approximately 60 people are believed to be involved in the protest at Grannagh, the identities of whom are currently unknown to the company. 

Consequences for breaching court orders 

Barrister Patricia Hill, counsel for the Irish Farmers Association (IFA) which is not a party to the proceedings, asked the court to consider putting a stay on any order that could see any of the protesters end up in prison.

She said the IFA was seeking time to engage with the parties and see if the situation could be resolved. The IFA had concerns as to whether the farmers involved in the protests were aware of the consequences of any breaches.

Mr Justice Allen, who noted what the IFA had said to the court, said he was mindful of the tensions involved and that the situation was most difficult. While he had no difficulty about talks taking place between the parties, there was however no room for engagement or negotiations in a situation where court orders were being breached. 

He said the courts had to act swiftly when orders of the court were being flouted. The terms of the injunctions granted by the court yesterday were obvious to anybody with the slightest intelligence, he said.

“Everybody who has had sight of the orders could understand what they mean,” Judge Allen said and, in the circumstances, he added that the court was prepared to grant Dawn Meats permission to bring the attachment and committal proceedings which he made returnable to Friday’s sitting of the court.

Temporary injunctions against protesters were also granted today by Judge Allen in relation to blockades at Kepak plants, and by Mr Justice Tony O’Connor in relation to people blockading premises at Ryland Lower, Bunclody, Co Wexford.

The orders, similar to ones granted to Dawn Meats and ABP yesterday, prohibit named defendants from trespassing, obstructing, hindering or in any way interfering with access to meat plants.

Barrister Anthony Thuillier, counsel for Kepak Group said the protests were costing the group financial loss and threatened a new multi-million-euro deal with China.

‘We’re not aggressive people’ 

Many farmers have insisted they are engaging in peaceful protests and not intimating anyone.

One farmer outside Meadow Meats in Rathdowney, Co Laois, told TheJournal.ie protesters are “a bit on edge after the court proceedings”.

“We’re not aggressive people at all. The minute your photograph or your name is taken then the gardaí will be down with their clipboards and I’ll be up in Dublin in the court because of it,” the man said this afternoon.

Edmond Phelan, the president of the Irish Cattle & Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA), said protesters outside the Rathdowney plant had used a “pragmatic approach” to facilitate a Chinese inspection taking place there.

“This sensible compromise between the farmers and the Rathdowney management stands in massive contrast to the belligerent approach ongoing in the High Court with ABP.

I have repeatedly said that heavy-handed legal tactics are no solution to the Chinese impasse. We all want to see more sales to China but farmers have to get their fair share.

“Farmers are sick and tired of doing all the work while those further down the food chain grab all the profit. Farmers need a substantial price rise immediately if they are to avoid going bust…

“I find it hard to believe that meat factories think that persecuting the very farmers that have made billionaires out of beef barons is the solution to the beef crisis,” Phelan added.

Agriculture Minister Michael Creed has said he is happy to facilitate further talks in a bid to resolve the issue.

Additional reporting by Órla Ryan, Garreth MacNamee and Ceimin Burke

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