Beef farmer protest: ‘Once you have the people behind you, then I think you can achieve a lot’

Beef farmer protest: ‘Once you have the people behind you, then I think you can achieve a lot’
Brendan Marshall, Carrigaline, and his dog Mikey at the Beef Plan Movement Cork protest at the ABP Ireland Bandon Plant, Kilbrogan, Bandon, Co Cork Mr Marshall, who sells secondhand agricultural machinery, says he had joined the picket line to show his support for beef farmers. Picture: Jim Coughlan

Beef farmers protesting at the gates of meat factories across the country say they have been emboldened by the support they have received from the public — some of whom have joined their ranks at the picket lines.

While local businesses and well-wishers have dropped food and drink to the picket lines to show their support, others have taken hours from their day to swell the numbers at the protests.

Brendan Marshall is one such protester. Standing in solidarity at the picket line at ABP Food’s plant in Bandon, Mr Marshall said he was there to show support for beef farmers, many of whom are his customers.

He said Ireland has seen the decline of an agriculture industry before, and drew parallels between the current situation and what played out when beet production stopped in Ireland in 2006.

“The biggest fright we got in my time was losing the beet. I sell secondhand machinery and I’m selling hardly nothing since the beet went. All the beet farmers, all the small farmers used to buy secondhand machinery off me. The big dairy fella will buy nothing of you — he’ll only buy all new stuff and put it on finance. So I’m suffering big time over the loss of beet,” Mr Marshall said.

Helen O’Sullivan, secretary of the Beef Plan Movement in Cork said the group has seen its membership numbers swell with people other than farmers as their protests have continued.

“They’re just signing up. They’re not even farmers, some of them are local people that just feel they want to support us and just be here in numbers. Because I think at the end of the day, it’s down to people power, and once you have the people behind you, I think you can achieve a lot,” she said.

Teresa O’Mahony is an accountant based in West Cork. She comes from a farming background and still has family members continuing the tradition. She said one aspect of the media coverage of the beef industry is the reporting of what farmers are receiving for their work.

She said reporting only focuses on the gross margins:

There’s never anything on what it takes for a farmer to put bread and butter on their table, what it costs them to run a family.

Another protester, who didn’t wish to be named, said some of the protesters from outside the industry are driven by an opposition to what they believe is an institutional deference to big business.

“There are people after joining who aren’t farmers, but they’re supporting the farmers. There were a couple of lads here last night who weren’t farmers who came in protesting because they’re sick of the way the country’s being run at the moment, big business doing what they want,” he said.

“Yes, we need big business and yes we need to give them a carrot, but we don’t need to give him the steak and the spuds and the whole lot of the dinner too.”

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