Agriculture Minister Michael Creed says that getting all sides of the beef dispute back to the negotiating table is a complex matter and that the ongoing impasse is an emotional issue that has had farmers “on the verge of tears”. Mr Creed said the issues that have seen farmers mount pickets at factories and retailers go beyond the price paid for cattle.
“I don't underestimate the challenge of getting these talks back on the rails,” Mr Creed said.
“It's not just about price. There's a kind of a deep sense of frustration, boiling over borne out of years of feeling that they have been mistreated, misunderstood, not given the full picture by the meat industry,” he told Sean O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio 1.
“I represent a rural constituency, I come from that background myself, I deeply understand that frustration, borne out of a lack of income for these farmers, farmers do understand the market. But I think it's also about this feeling that, over a long period of time, they haven't been taken on board as equal partners in a huge industry for the Irish rural economy.
"I think part of the resolution of this will have to recognise that breakdown in relationships and put in place structures into the future, for proper partnership.
"I've commented on this issue before, long before this boiled over, the difficult state of relations and how that has to be addressed if this industry is to thrive and prosper into the future and to recognise that farmers are an equal partner in that business,” he said.
Mr Creed said while there is an anxiety on both sides to resume talks, the terms to facilitate this to both sides’ satisfaction have yet to be established:
“I want to get to a situation where farm leaders can go to the picket line, and look at their individual farm members, and those who are members of no farm organisation who are there and say, 'listen, now, I think we have the basis on which to proceed into these negotiations, and get an outcome that enables us to move on' because there is a real danger now that we approach a tipping point where there are more significant losses for both sides."
“I'm very conscious that we export 90% of our beef to international markets and we've had a period of six weeks of difficulties. That begins to have an impact, not just in terms of the media coverage, and the reach of that but also in terms of retail partners,” he said.
Mr Creed said Wednesday’s announcement that the first producers' organisation has received legal recognition is significant: “It's not a silver bullet, it won't address all the issues. It won't, in many respects, buck the market, but it will give certainty and contractual certainty to those farmers who are in these producer organisations when they engage with processors."
“[At present] when you drive up on any morning of the week with a trailer load of cattle, you take the price that's on offer. What a producer organisation can do is give certainty, some distance out, that if you produce what the factory wants you can see well in advance what price you'll get,” he said.