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Beef farmers and meat industry set for new talks as protesters in Meath force factory closure

Agriculture minister Michael Creed announced that new talks will take place next week.

Farmers at a picket in Waterford last month.
Farmers at a picket in Waterford last month.
Image: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Updated Sep 5th 2019, 2:55 PM

TALKS WILL RECONVENE between the meat industry and beef farmers, agriculture minister Michael Creed announced today, after a previous deal was rejected last month. 

With tensions rising as farmers blockade and picket factories over beef prices, Creed announced this morning that new talks are set to take place on 9 September. 

In August, the Beef Plan Movement rejected the draft deal reached between farmers and Meat Industry Ireland.  

Planned talks come following days of unrest outside meat factories across Ireland.

Today meat processing factory Dawn Meats – which was in the High Court last week seeking permanent orders restraining trespass and intimidation by protesters – reached an agreement with farmers that a factory near Slane, Meath will close until the beef dispute is resolved. 

Beef protesters reached agreement with the factory’s management that from 6pm tomorrow the factory will be locked. 

In a statement, Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín, who has been working with Meath farmers, said: 

This morning a deal was agreed in Meath between factory management and farmers. It consisted of the following: all of the trucks with cattle waiting to gain access into the factory would be turned around and sent home. All of the material within the process at the factory would be allowed to shipped out of the factory up until 6pm tomorrow and at that stage the gates of the factory would be locked. The factory will remain closed until the beef crisis is resolved.

Tóibín said that he had been asked by farmers at Slane to represent them at any negotiations in the coming days. 

However, in a statement this afternoon a spokesperson for Dawn Meats said that the factory was not scheduled to process cattle tomorrow. 

The company did not indicate that an agreement had been reached to close the plant. 

“We were disappointed to find protesters illegally blockading the plant this morning. Due to concerns about road safety – given the presence of protesters at the gate – we agreed to divert cattle due to be delivered for processing today. In turn the protesters have allowed the safe exit of lorries to deliver beef to customers,” the spokesperson said. 

The spokesperson said that the company hoped that Monday’s talks could “provide a mechanism to resolve the situation”. 

Talks

This morning, Creed said that there had been “significant engagement” with all of those involved in the beef dispute. 

“I believe that there is now a basis for the renewal of talks between the parties,” he said. 

Creed warned that if the weeks-long dispute continues, it could “inflict long term damage on the sector”. 

Beef Plan Movement Chairman Eamon Corley told TheJournal.ie that his organisation would enter talks again if there were no pre-conditions. 

However, he warned that talks should also include the individual farmers protesting on picket lines, many of whom he said had been disappointed by last month’s talks. 

“Farmers won’t want to be fooled twice,” he said. Corley suggested that for the talks to be a success “there has to be an avenue for price to be discussed”. 

“Factories are going to have to realise that a sustainable price for farmers is going to have to be secured,” he added. 

Chairman of the Beef Plan Movement Kerry committee, Dermot O’Brien, told TheJournal.ie that the organisation would not join talks unless threats of legal action were withdrawn by meat factories. 

“Goodwill has to be extended by the meat processors,” he added. 

He added that he hoped retailers and “everyone along the supply chain” could join the talks. 

Earlier this week, meat processing company Kepak accused picketing farmers of damaging Ireland’s future prospects after accusing the Beef Plan Movement of blocking a visit of Chinese inspectors. 

However, Beef Plan Movement leaders told TheJournal.ie that they condemned such a blockade. In recent weeks, facing the threat of legal action, the body has stepped back from organising pickets and protests. 

file-photo-michael-creed-said-beef-talks-will-go-ahead-next-monday-end Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed announced that talks between beef farmers and the meat industry would take place next week. Source: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Meat Industry

Meat processing plants have taken to applying for injunctions against some protesters in a bid to stop individual farmers blockading factories. 

A spokesperson for Meat Industry Ireland today welcomed the announcement and said meat factories would defer legal proceedings if Creed was able to secure engagement in the talks. 

“We expect that protest action at the plants will equally be suspended,” the spokesperson said. 

“The processing sector has been seriously hampered by protests and blockades in recent weeks which have served no useful purpose but instead have severely impacted domestic and international customers of Irish beef, farmers seeking to deliver factory ready cattle for processing, and meat industry employees across the country,” they added. 

Issues can be resolved, Creed said, “if processors and protesters step back from court proceedings and illegal blockades, in order to allow space for meaningful talks to proceed”. 

Vice-President of the European Parliament Mairead McGuinness also announced today that she has asked the parliament’s agriculture committee to examine the ongoing dispute. 

McGuinness called on the next agriculture commissioner to take a close look the challenges facing the beef sector. 

“The protests reflect a deep concern among beef farmers about their immediate and long term future,” McGuinness said in a statement. 

Farmers across the EU have seen prices fall, she said, citing “the perfect storm of weak demand, Brexit uncertainties and increased supply” as the reasons for the current issues.

“Relationships between all operators in the chain must be based on trust and fairness. Without such we are threatening the sustainability of our food supply chain,” she added. 

Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) President Joe Healy last month said that the reason farmers were not happy with the previous talks is that the central issue of beef prices wasn’t addressed.

“We talk about going back into talks but it’s a waste of time going back in if we can’t talk about price. We mentioned price every time we were in there but unfortunately it couldn’t be talked about, or so we were told,” Healy said. 

An IFA spokesperson told TheJournal.ie that the organisation was not currently planning to comment on the announcement of fresh talks. The spokesperson did not confirm whether the IFA, which took part in August’s talks, would be joining in the discussions on Monday.

Creed said that his department would be contacting groups today to make arrangements for the talks. 

Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy, however, warned that Creed and the government cannot be a “neutral observer” in the talks.

“Beef farmers need help from the government and Minister Creed must bring forward a set of supportive proposals to help secure the future viability of this sector,” Carthy said. 

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